Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Future of Books

I own about 700 books. These books range from children picture books to how to books, and educational books. I love having a personal library or as I see it, my very own bookstore. Some of the books I've had since childhood, some I bought, some were gifts, and some were freebies.

Now you can purchase ebooks. I think ebooks are great, especially if you're traveling, and some of the children picture ebooks are more interactive than a normal book, but normal books should not be forgotten. I don't think they will, at least I hope not, and if they do I'm sure it won't happen for a long time...right? Just think how quickly technology has changed how we do things. It is standard now that everyone has a cell phone and a tv. Many households have a computer, but not all. How soon will ebooks replace books?

How soon will schools start purchasing etextbooks for students? That could be really helpful-if publishers have minor updates to the text changes could easily be fixed and newer versions shouldn't cost as much, it would cut down on costs (not having to replace the text) and it would reduce paper consumption, but jobs would be lost. Schools could just add an ereader to the supply list. How long do you think it will take, if ever?

What about public libraries, and school libraries? How will they be effected? Already the catalog system has changed over to computers. How many of you remember filtering through cards in drawers to find the library book you wanted? What other things do you think will be effected?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Report Cards for Parents

A Florida State Representative has proposed a bill that would require teachers to grade parents. I have mixed feelings about this. I agree with teachers' concerns that having report cards for parents adds to the already overloaded workload of the teacher, but I really like the what State Rep. Kelli Starge says in the video, "Teachers are being accountable. We're holding students accountable. We're holding administrators accountable. This is basically the missing link."

Woo-hoo! At least someone is trying to find a way to hold parents accountable too. As I said in a previous post, "What about the parents!?!?" Parents (typically but not in all situations) are the constant in a child's life; ultimately it is the parent that set the standard for what is or isn't acceptable (not just in school but in life).

The suggested report card would grade parents on four areas: homework, attendance, good night's sleep, and the parent's communication with the teacher. More work? Yes. But not too much. Usually when you are filling out a student's report card you consider these things; attendance is usually on every report card as well as a section that asks the teacher to grade students on if they come prepared for class-meaning did the student complete their homework, do they have everything they need, are they well rested. That's three of the four right there.

My only complaint is the homework section. Some teachers give out way too much homework that is not realistic (see my post about homework). I think that all teachers should tell parents an appropriate time that students should spend on homework (for me that was 30 minutes to an hour on each assignment sent home, math and reading). If a parent notices their child spending more time than that they should stop their child and write the teacher a note (because after an hour working on something you are no longer productive and most likely just getting frustrated). This way I can do my job and help the student with areas they are struggling in. If this becomes the standard teachers could easily complete a report card for parents, capturing homework completion and communication.

This is an interesting idea and I'm glad someone is trying to figure out a way to hold parents accountable. I can see parents getting upset thinking they are being critiqued on parenting skills, but this report card does not grade parenting skills it grades parent involvement, things any parent can do to help their child in school (which some parents really need). Basically this is another document that teachers can use to let parents know how their child is doing in school and targeting things all parents can do to help their child.

Check out these videos:

Also check out's report, parentdish's report, and a parental involvement report card by Project Appleseed.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Apps for Teachers

TeacherPal is one of the best apps I've seen for teachers that is available on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod. This program is geared more for middle school and high school teachers but could be used by elementary teachers.

TeacherPal allows you to create as many classrooms as you want. For an elementary teacher I would use each classroom as a different subject matter (i.e. science, math, reading, writing, health, social studies). Once you enter the title you can add a description and a picture. The program offers six pictures, but you have the option to add one of your own photos.

Once you've created the class you can start to add students. When you add a student there are fields for the student's first and last name, email, parent's email and phone number. I wish there was a field for the parent's name and the option to add multiple phone numbers and emails. As of now you can only enter one phone number and one email for the student and parent. You can also assign a picture of the student to their file. This feature is very helpful for teachers who have many students and for teachers to see that they are thinking about the correct student. (and if you're school used this program guest teachers {substitutes} would be able to take accurate notes on students. See below for school use)

You can view the students in alphabetic order or you can view the students based on the seating arrangements.

To create your seating chart simply touch the chair in the top left of the screen, then hold down on a student's photo until it starts to wiggle. Then you can drag the photo to the desired location.

Attendance is easy to take. Simply select "Attendance" on the bottom of the screen, click a student's picture, which dims meaning they are absent. In this photo Student C and Student R are dimmed

You can change the date if you need to and the period. Although changing the period does not make sense to me because in high school you have different students for each class period and for elementary school you'd want to use different classes for each subject and you are not able to change the grades or assignments for each period. Basically the period feature of this app is a waste.

Later when you select a student you can view their personal info, attendance, behavior, and grades. If you need to contact a parent simply select the student, personal info, then the parent's email address and an email window pops up. You can write the email immediately (then you can send it or save it as a draft).

In the "Grades" section you can add assignments. For each assignment you can enter a title, description, date, weight, and maximum grade.

Now when you look at your class each student has a bar next to their photo. This bar provides a visual for students grades in the class. A full bar is 100%. Notice that the students that have a 50% or lower grade have a red exclamation point next to their picture.

In the settings you can change the warning level to a percentage of your choice. You can also configure grade levels, number of periods for each class, and maximum absences in the settings. In this picture I changed the percentage to 70% and the absences to 5. Student C has a full bar, but has missed class 5+ times.

The behaviors feature needs some work. As of now you can enter a behavior and select a thumbs up or down, or a clipboard. I'm not sure what the clipboard is supposed to represent. When you look at the student's profile, the behavior section says, "0 negative incident(s) from a total of 0 incident(s)." This makes it seem like behaviors are only bad, but some behaviors are good. I would like to see TeacherPal improve this function so that teachers can take more anecdotal notes related to all behaviors not just "incident(s)."

There is a button in the bottom right, "sync," this button takes you to a screen suggesting the awesome features this program has if your school uses this program. Attendance would be easy to submit every morning/period/fire drill. Once you take attendance click sync and the information is sent to the office. Grades and behavior notes are also sent so if a parent calls the principal, he/she can easily look it up. And wouldn't it be great if they had this set up for report cards! Gosh that would make bubbling so much easier. Unfortunately, I cannot find out how much it would cost a school to commit to this program.

For those interested in using this program on their own there is an option to export the class data to your iTunes or email.

TeacherPal has a facebook page. One of the comments here asks if TeacherPal could develop a grading system based on standards. That would be very helpful, but difficult to do because every state and county has different standards. Although I'm sure that if the school/county pays for this app, they could negotiate such a deal.

Overall I'd say TeacherPal is a useful program and I would (and will) tell fellow teachers about this app (when I downloaded TeacherPal it was free, not sure how long that will last). It takes a while to set up, but well worth it.

If you do plan on using this app take some time to make a practice class so that you understand and get comfortable with all of the features before you start using it in the classroom. I made a few mistakes while setting up my practice class that would have really upset me if I was using it in the classroom already.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Spring Cleaning

Do you ever feel that you just don't like the way your office/home is set up and want to change it? Well that's how I felt so I rearranged my home office space and front room. I think I go through this phase at least four times a year, and I would also do the same in my classroom. Sometimes I switch things back after testing them out for a month or so, or I make modifications to my new arrangement.

I think that the term "spring cleaning" was thought up by a person that just wanted to switch things up. I wonder how many people feel and do what I do, and how many use the same set up every time. I moved around growing up, and I always wondered what it would be like for someone to live in the same house since they were born. I think I would be moving stuff around my house like crazy. (Please post a comment if this applies to you)

During my 'spring cleaning' phase I also get rid of everything I don't use on a consistent basis (with the exception of holiday decorations or fancy dresses). I know there are some clothes in my closet that I refuse to wear, so I get rid of them. This applies to everything in my possession. My husband does this as well, but not to the drastic extent that I do. So he fussed at me a few time to keep some things, but I just feel that if you don't use it then it's a waste of space and one more thing you have to clean and keep up with. I wouldn't say I'm a minimalist, but gosh darn close. Anyone else feel this way?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Delicious Library 2 Update

A while ago I posted about a program, Delicious Library. This program is used to inventory books, movies, software, video games, toys, gadgets, tools and apparel. I absolutely love this program (for Macs only). It's very easy to use and uses graphics to help you identify your property. If you loan something out to a friend you simply create a profile for your friend, then click and drag the item they are borrowing to their name. You can publish your list to a website or export your library to an excel document. This can also be helpful if you loose some of these items in a move/flood/fire/theft.

Using this program in the classroom is ideal because it allows you to see which students have what books, how much that book costs (if lost), a description of the book along with other books you may like, and uses pictures, titles, creators to identify the book.

I made a friend titled 'Classroom' so that I knew which items I brought with me and should take home at the end of the year. If I lent out supplies to a fellow teacher I could simply add them as a friend so that I know where my materials are going (as any teacher can tell you this can be really helpful). My computer now has a camera so it's really easy to add new items by simply scanning the barcode. No camera? Type in the ISBN, or title. Can't find the item you're trying to add, simply add a blank book/movie/etc. and add your own details. Don't like the picture assigned to the object, simply search the web for the one you want, drag and drop the new image over the old, and done. My students loved using this application. It allowed them time to use technology, practice typing, problem solve, and be responsible. Even my low level readers could use this program because of the graphics.

Delicious Library is currently on sale for $30. So if you weren't sure about buying it before definitely check it out now!

Monday, February 14, 2011

No!!! It's a...

Antoinette Portis wrote a book titled, "Not a Box." This book is super cute and captures the mindset of children before we put parameters on their imagination. This is a great book to read with kids! Children can make predictions on what the box might be (maybe they'll come up with something not mentioned in the book), and they can start to recognize patterns/words (because every other page the bunny says, "It's not a box"). This is also a book that once you read it with your child a few times you may see them pick the book up and read it to themselves. This book is also a great reminder to adolescents and adults to think out and inside of the box (pun intended).

A superfantasic, totally cool, 'wish I had one of those when I was little' is the bilibo. This object is shaped like half of a turtle shell. Parents would always ask me, "Why would anyone want that?" Are you crazy! Who wouldn't want one. These things are awesome. It allows you to use your imagination to do anything you want with it. You could pretend to be a turtle, an alien, an adventurer, a bug. You could use it in the pool, down a snowy slope, in the sand box, with the snow, to dig, to throw, to build, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Haven't you ever seen kids playing with the box. They usually passover what's inside and have more fun with the box.

If you've never heard of either of these things check them out!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Well That Just Makes Sense

There is man, Sir Ken Robinson, who has a lot of great ideas about education today. If you've never heard of him I highly recommend that you check him out. Most of the things he says seem like basic common sense.

I especially agreed with his comments questioning why kids should be motivated to go to school. Not so long ago, if you wanted to do well in life you had to finish high school and continue on to college. Now everyone's been to college so it's expected. The next thing you have to get is a Master's degree...Well what happens when that becomes the norm? What is the motivator to finish school? Or go to college? Especially when the end seems to be no where in sight?

Sir Ken Robinson also has some very interesting ideas about creativity. Hopefully his ideas are not only heard, but acted upon.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Three things parents can do to help their children in life and in school

I moved about a year ago and in doing so left teaching behind. Some days I really miss teaching, I mean really really really miss it. But other days when I think about all the report cards, school meetings, extra classes, and now all the slack teachers get about, "US students are behind in almost every subject because of teachers, they must the reason students are failing," I don't miss it at all.

I agree with many others who ask, "What about the parents!?!?" Because when you think about it teachers come and go every year, but parents are around for a lifetime. Teachers cannot be held accountable for what happens before school, after school and when school is out.

How many parents take time to have a conversation with their child about anything? How many parents spend 10+ minutes reading to their kids? How many parents take their kids to museums and talk to them about the exhibits (not just, "oh wow look at that")?

One interesting article discusses play at home, causes for why kids don't play at home, and why play is so important. Having a child is a lot of responsibility and not all children are self-motivated to learn and achieve. Based on my teaching experience and education there are (at the very minimum) three things parents can do to set their child up for success:

1) Read to/with your child at least an hour a day and discuss what you're reading. This hour doesn't have to be in one sitting, and you don't have to always be reading a book. You could read a recipe, comic book, newspaper, magazine, online article, email, picture book, etc. Most importantly talk about it! Don't just read it and put it away! Ask questions, share your thoughts, talk about your experiences, make predictions, make connections, talk about the vocabulary used, ask what ifs...

2) Talk with your child. In the teaching world we have moments called "teachable moments." This is when something happens that may or may not be related to what you are teaching but you use this opportunity to teach. This happens ALL THE TIME! This can be about anything (i.e. when the trash truck comes, why does it come and where does it go; why do we wash our hands; why is it important to eat healthy foods; why are there commercials on tv; why do some people wear glasses; why do we use plates; how does a vehicle work, depending on the age of the child depends on how in-depth an answer you give). But just talk to them, and it's ok if you don't know. Then you can work with your child to find the answer out together, an even better opportunity for your child to learn how to conduct research!

3)Spend quality time with your child. If you are doing # 1 & 2, then you are most likely already doing this. I don't mean time where your child is in the same room and you're watching TV or working on the computer or talking on the phone. I mean time where you are at your child's disposal if they need help or have a question. You are focused on them. This doesn't have to be every waking moment, but make sure you have time allotted just for this.

Can you imagine how different our students would be if all parents did at least these 3 things?