Saturday, December 31, 2011

Twenty Lessons from 2011

1.  It really is a “Small World” after all and investing in relationships with people from different places really does enrich your life. So go ahead and use those tools available these days to stay in touch.

2.  Swallow your pride and admit it when you are wrong. Usually those around you have already figure out your mistake anyway.

3. Don’t take yourself too seriously! Sometimes it is just best to laugh at yourself.  We humans can be pretty funny creatures sometimes. 

4. Thanks to the Housewives of “Whatever City”  I have realized  that my life is pretty tame and boring and I like it that way.

5.  Laughter really is good medicine.

6.  Give more grace to people. You have not walked in other people’s shoes and there is probably a whole bunch you don’t understand about their choices, behaviors and decisions.

7.  Be very careful in intersections, because not everyone follows the rules of the road or in life. You never know when or where danger lies so be alert. 

8.  Listen and hear people better! This fall I had someone who I had not seen in awhile  surprise me by revisiting a small simple detail from a conversation we had had a couple months earlier. That act really made me feel like what I said mattered and is a gift I would love to pass on to others.

9.  Throwing a frozen banana, a half of cup of frozen berries and a bit of honey into a food processor really does make a great dessert. This is really yummy!

10.  No matter how things have turned out in the past don't be afraid to be vulnerable and take risk.  It is better to be in the game then to always wonder what if.

11. At times, it might be wiser to keep emails and messages in draft form for a day or so before hitting the send button. Things might be better communicated after a day or so of reflection.

12.  Slow down and smell the roses some. Better yet, pull out the camera and take photographs of them. There is so much beauty in our world and we miss so much of it with all our rushing around.

13.  Live within (or better yet below) your means. It really does give you more freedom.

14.  Life does not have a rewind button, email/Facebook message can not be unsent, harsh words can not be unsaid, etc.  All we can do; is do our best, learn from our mistakes and trust that God has a plan.

15.  That putting brown sugar out in a small dishes really does keep flies away. (Thanks Melody for that little tip).

16.  True loyalty is displayed when people show honor to someone who is no longer in a position to do anything for them. 

17. When you decide to go against the grain and do things differently be prepare to explain why. Those explanations demonstrate the true intelligence behind your decisions.

18.  When someone does something nice for you (even if you can do it for yourself) let your guard down, enjoy it and remember to say thank you.   

19.  Sometimes it really is fun to have your past visit it you.

20.  Real history happens as we live life out day to day and continues on in the memories of those around us. So from the bottom of my heart thanks to each and everyone of you for being part of my history this year. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

   In one of my earliest post I mentioned that I have Dyslexia. Seriously, that was one of the first times that I had admitted it publicly. As a child, no one really talked about it, which is partly due to the fact that my Mom wanted to believe there was nothing wrong. If I were honest she still won’t talk about it and is shocked that I would be willing to admit such a thing. This, I find a bit funny due to the fact that if you have receive more than an email or two from me you aware of the fact that something is not quite right. Whether it was talked about it or not, I knew I wasn’t keeping up with my classmates and with three of my six siblings testing in the gifted range there was no keeping up at home either. With that said, I don’t remember anyone treating me as if I were stupid, but I do remember feeling trapped. Trapped in knowing that how I spelled and read limited me in how I communicated. I think at an early age I knew that based on what I did produce my intelligence was constantly being measured more by my weaknesses then my strengths. Honestly, this is a reality I know still exist today and I am aware of the fact that I have been passed over on opportunities due to my written communications. Even with the use of a few editors it is a constant struggle for me to find the courage to share, because with each Tweet, Facebook, blog post .... I know there are at least one or two people out there who are judging the grammar and spelling rather then the content of what I have said. 

    About five years ago, I was blessed to have a young lady entered my world and classroom that truly helped me bridge the gap of understanding about Dyslexia. Although this child’s intelligence measured in the gifted range for many reasons she struggles with reading and language. After exploring several different avenues to help their child her parents took her to a neurologist and it was through that visit that it was discovered she too had Dyslexia. Following her diagnose her Mom and I read a book that had been suggested to me through a friend entitle The Gifted of Dyslexia. Before this time, all I had heard about Dyslexia was that it involved seeing words backwards, which I learned was not the case. Honestly, that was a relief to me, because I did not think that I read words backwards. Anyway, as I made my way through this book it felt like a mirror was being help up in front of my face and parts brought tears to my eyes. Finally, there was something that explained how my mind works, why language is such a struggle and how some of my other strengths and weaknesses fit into the picture. For instance, for years I have taken kidding from family and friends about my huge issue with klutziness, which has been very well deserved. Only to read that is also a sign of dyslexia. It is not often that a book comes along that changes how you see yourself.
     Then this summer HBO did a documentary entitled  Journey Into Dyslexia. During the documentary different people with Dyslexia were interviewed (artist, CEO, Nobel Prize Winner.... and thriving students). From those interviews I think the best line came from Erin Brockovich, "I would not be who I am if I did not have Dyslexia." This very true and simple statement really helps put things into perspective and reminded me of one of my favorite Bible verses.  Psalm 139:14  “I praise you (God) because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”  I found it interesting that nowhere in this verse does it say I would praise you if I did not have Dyslexia or had been made perfect.  Now, I would never say that having Dyslexia has been a cakewalk, but it is part of what makes me fearfully and wonderfully made.  

Monday, September 26, 2011

"We Are a Laboratory, NOT a Factory"-In Action

 In earlier blog post, I had explained that for the last several years Oneco's Gifted Program has been using the motto “We are a laboratory, Not a factory.” However, I feel that I may need to do a better job explaining how things work and where standards are built into our projects. We work from The Constructivism Learning Theory where a multitude of curriculum standards are threaded together and explored on a deeper level through projects. Our integrated standards reflect Florida's Grade Level Sunshine State Standards, The State of Florida's Framework for the K-12 Gifted Learners  and National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) and Performance Indicators for Students.  In The Constructivism Learning Theory the basic belief is that the learning is in the process. This is partly done by not doing anything for students that they can do for themselves.

To illustrate my point, here is an example from one of our Challenge Based Learning Projects. Students wanted to conduct a survey for adults to participate in. It then was the students’ responsibility to:
-Write a letter requesting that the adults take the survey.

-Write the questions and answers for the survey. 
This was a wonderful learning experience and there was a long discussion on why answers to our survey might need to be multiple choice and not open ended. There was a lot of critical thinking that took place during that discussion and in the process of writing both the questions and answers to our survey.

-Write a thank you note for taking the survey.

-Analysis the data from the survey, which forced students to make and analysis several double bar graphs.

-Finally, use that information to either create new questions, conduct more research and/or create a solution.

Oneco’s Gifted Program mainly utilizes two framework that I feel embrace The Constructivism Learning TheoryProject Based Learning and Challenge Based Learning. They have many of the same basic principles.  However, I have several reasons why I feel  Challenge Based Learning is more effective, but feel that is information for another blog post.

 As we have learned to embraced our motto, my role, as their teacher, has also changed. I have made a shift from being less of a dispenser of information to now being more of a guide and fellow researcher.  There are many conversations and coaching sessions during the CBL or PBL process. Most of our conversations, seem to center around the hows and whys of doing quality research and not just on the content of the research. It is through these conversations and their reflections that my students are forced to look at what they are doing, how they are doing it and ultimately gain the skills needed to solve other challenges they will come across in their futures. It is a balancing act to live out these authentic learning experiences and there are times when this process seems very long.  However, by getting out of the way and letting the students have some control their learning becomes both meaningful and sustainable.

There is some wonderful research out on this subject and I've included a couple articles if you are interested.

Project Based Learning ,- Edutopia
Challenge Based Learning  -

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Our Blended (Hybrid) Classroom and FCAT Reading Results??

Sometimes there are surprises (or at least things you don't expect) and I have experienced such a surprise over the last couple of years. At the beginning of the 2009-10 I started blending the delivery model of my classroom and began using the Moodle . Since then we have had several Moodle units and most of the time we have a bit of a Blended (or Hybrid) Classroom going on. Now there are the obvious reasons why this model is effective for us, such as; more time on task, working at your own pace and that different groups can work in the same course at the same time. However, unless I am looking at the data wrong we have also been experiencing some atypical improvements on our FCAT Reading Scores. I have looked at the data for the last two years and it seems that our reading growth or Development Scale Score change from year to year has had some major spikes. I first noticed this last year when I had several students' DSS change jumped over six hundred points. Then when the scores arrived this year, I noticed that again most of the Gifted students had significant growth from 2010 to 2011 and not one Oneco student who fully attended gifted failed to make gains. Also, there is one 5th grade student who stopped attending Oneco's Gifted Program at the end of 4th grade. His DSS change in 4th grade jumped over seven hundred points, but his DSS change in 5th dropped over three hundred points. Along with that, here is a bit of our rough data for this year:

Grade 4 Developmental Scale Score change from 2010
-Gifted Population Average- 374.6 points
-Rest of the Population Average-175.5 points

Grade 5 Developmental Scale Score change from 2010
-Gifted Population Average- 244.42 points
-Rest of the Population Average- 67.26 points

Truth is, I am become convinced that our blend model (the Moodle) has been playing a role in these students' growth. Which is something I will need to continue to watch.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Hobby

For several years now, I have been dabbling in the hobby of photography. Today, as I was cleaning out the files on my computer I found some of my favorite shots of friends and family I have taken during this past school year.

September 2010- Maternity Session

October 2011-Happy Halloween

May 2011-Maternity Session

  May 2011- New Arrival

To see more please check out  my photography blog

Friday, March 18, 2011

Reading Across State Lines-Florida and Iowa (Part 2)

During my first couple of years teaching, I remember a veteran teacher stressing the importance of staying flexible in this job. This Thursday with virtual literature circles was a prime example of why that principle is important. Since my 5th grade students only attend Gifted once a week we could only meet with the 5th graders in Iowa on Thursday. However, both schools have schedules we have to compete with and things come up. This week we had to deal with the fact that Iowa had a play that was being presented during their reading blocks. So what we did was hold both book talks (video conferences) simultaneously, but in different rooms to divide the sound. We had attempted to hold them at the same time and same room a couple of weeks ago, but that made it difficult to hear. Holding them in different rooms solved the sound issue, but created a few others. Since I could not leave my students alone to video conference with Ms. Hill I had to come up with a place on campus that was fairly quiet and had an adult near by so my students had supervision. With that, I asked our nurse and nurse’s assistant if my students could use this clinic for their meeting on Do the Funky Pickle. We have used the clinic for recording podcast and creating video clips in the past and these two ladies are always willing to help us out. Our later video conference was scheduled during a high traffic time in the clinic so I asked a pre-k teacher and a parent of one of the students if they could hold the video conference in her room. She too could not have been more accommodating. I am so lucky to work with a group of people who see the value of what we do and are so willing to help out. This solution did allow us to hear much better and helped keep students on task. Being off task had not been a huge issue for either group, but it did cut down on the momentary distractions we were experiencing in both groups.

Another observation, I had was that the conversations during the video conferences are becoming much more in depth. The students at first seemed willing to just share their job for the week and the conversations were a bit flat. However, as we get to know each other and make our way through the books I am watching the students interactions with each other and these books deepen. My student have been seeking time at lunch, at dismissal or just stopping by my room to discuss what is going on with the characters in their book. These brief interaction are playing a role in the video conferences as well. Rather than just sitting and listening to one student after another present their work they are now asking questions, commenting on the work presented and/or asking others to explain their thinking. One of my biggest joys, as an educator, is watching students take hold of not just what they are learning, but the learning process itself.

With that said, I believe that learning does take place in the process, but that is not without thought towards standards and benchmarks. In our laboratory, we build in as many cross curriculum learning standards into an activity as possible. As we make our way through these
virtual literature circles, with our friends from Iowa, we are honing skills on the following list of standards: NETS Standards, Florida Framework for Gifted Students K-12 and Grade 5 Sunshine State Standards for Language Arts. Due to the amount of standards covered with this project and the students' engagement level this endeavor has been an amazing use of class time. I can't wait to see where the rest of our journey will take us. To our friends in Iowa, we will see see you all on Thursday.

Monday, March 7, 2011

My ADE Application Experience

About a week ago the ADE invitations went out and sadly I did not receive one. Honestly, I knew going in that the competition was tough and that it was a long shot. I had seen many incredible videos on You Tube and I was impressed by them. Then after the announcement went out there was a lot of chatter on Twitter and blogs, which I found interesting. Others gave the benefits of being recognized by Apple, adding thee letters behind their names and the training offered to ADEs for being their reasons for applying. Which I couldn't argue that those things would have been wonderful, but that was not my reason for applying. With that said, I was feeling reflective this week so looked at my application again. Truth is, I had no plans of broadcasting the fact that I had indeed applied and was not chosen. However, after reviewing my application I realize that I did want to share a thought that appeared both in the last paragraph of the written portion of my application and the last couple lines in my video.

So for what it is worth here they are:

“I am passionate about the role Apple Technology has played (and will play) in our laboratory and beyond. I also feel honored to have met either face to face or virtually several members of the ADE community. These individuals have taught me a great deal while encouraging me along the way and I’ve felt so bless to have them in my life. With that said, I would like to thank Apple for both building such a community and empowering its members to reach out to other educators to impact even more classrooms. It is truly my hope to join this community continue the work that has already begun.”

Finally, Congratulations to the ADE Class of 2011 and for all the ADEs in my PLN thanks for all the learning. YOU ALL ROCK!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Reading Across State Lines-Florida and Iowa (Part 1)

This fall, during Rock Our World, Oneco’s Gifted Program's fifth graders spoke with Gina Hill’s fifth graders from Aquin Catholic Elementary School in Cascade, Iowa. While the students were chatting we noticed that they seemed to enjoy discussing literature. Right in the middle of this chat Ms. Hill and I discussed doing some sort of book project this spring. Then in early January Ms. Hill and I began to think through and plan things using email and Facebook. Both of use had dealt with Literature Circles in the past and shared the same vision. We did spend some time sharing different components of these circles and we were very similar. However, we had many questions that needed to be answered first. What were the reading levels of our individual students? Which books had already been devoured by our students? With those things considered, we threw several novels around and we finally decided on Do the Funky Pickle by Jerry Spenilli and The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick. After the books were chosen, we decided that Ms. Hill would take most of the responsibilities for Do the Funky Pickle and my job would be to work with the students reading Homer P. Figg.

The next set of questions that needed to be answered had to do with that technology tools would server our needs best. Due to our experiences with Rock Our World we both had video conferencing capabilities. So how we would communicate synchronously was easy to answer. However, how the kids would receive and turn in assignments to a teacher thousands of miles away? How will the necessary asynchronous communication take place? We discussed several tools to preform these tasks, but ultimately ended up deciding on Moodle, the online course management system. I have a developed a few courses in the past using Moodle and are housed on my county's server. However, I needed to ask permission and for help from our Instructional Technology Department. We needed for Ms. Hill to be able to help create the course and for her students to also be enrolled in our Moodle. Lucky for me, they have always been very supportive and helpful when it comes to my endeavors. Since the Moodle was new to Ms. Hill, she took upon herself to visit and learn what she could from there. Between her investigation, a brief how to document I sent and a twenty minute iChat session we were up and running.

Then on Thursday, February 24th we began with some activities to build background knowledge for each book and we had set up to conducted video conferences. We attempted to hold them on two different computers in each of classrooms at the same time. We thought we would use Skype for one and iChat for the other. Through that experience we learned a few things. First, that although the kids were engaged the focused having these conferences happen simultaneously caused issues with being able to hear clearly. There was the need to keep asking students to repeat things, which we felt was wasting time. So we decide to divide them the next time. Along with that, for some reason we were struggling to keep the audio feed with our connection through Skype. We would lose the audio on one end, have to hang up and call back. We decided not to try to figure out why and that we would just be using iChat from now on.

For Week 2, we had a bit of a problem with our video conference schedule. The Oneco Gifted 5th grader only meet on Thursdays and the students in Iowa were being forced to go skiing Thursday, March 3. However, through the use of technology we did our best to keep the kids connected. On Wednesday, March 2nd Ms. Hill video taped her Do the Funky Pickle
book talk, while I iChatted and recorded the Iowa book talk for Homer P. Then I video taped Oneco’s book talks on Thursday. Finally, we uploaded them into the Moodle for the other group to watch.

As for the Moodle the students seem to have adjusted very quickly to how things work and it is giving them some much needed experience with online course format. Another wonderful thing about Moodle, is that it can be edited and added to with ease when a need arise. For instance, we just added a text chat feature for our use during our next video conferencing session. This way while one group is iChatting the other group can also be engaged in a synchronous activity. Personally, I can not wait to see how that works out.

Overall, this whole experience has been amazing so far. Ms. Hill and her students from Iowa have been incredible and we appreciate the fact that they have been willing to take this adventure with us. Please stay tuned for further post on this adventure.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Science with Tasmania

About this time last Spring I applied and was accepted The Global Collaboration Project Rock Our World and through this project we have meet the most amazing people throughout the globe. At the core of Rock Our World is video conferencing. Which at the time was fairly new to not just the Oneco's Gifted Program, but to our school and county as well. I am so grateful for the experiences we have had with ROW and feel blessed that some of those we have meet along the way continue to interact with us on a regular basis.

One of those we have been lucky enough to stay in contact with is Liz Mason and her family from Hobart, Tasmania. We met Liz during last Spring’s Round of ROW and one night while on her school holiday Ms. Mason was nice enough to stay up to about midnight to meet with my third graders to tell them a bit about Tasmania.

After ROW InTOONational this fall, some of us got to talking how we did not want the video conferencing to end and somewhere in the mist of these conversations Ms. Mason and I set up a time for us to meet again. Like before, she stayed up to all hours to meet with us, but this time she was not alone her teenage daughters Amy and Hana joined in on the fun. Our first chat with Ms. Mason and her daughters involved my fifth grader students and covered a variety of topics. Amy and Hana were an absolute delight and seemed to enjoy our discussion on television shows, junk food and Florida’s Amusement Parks. Oprah had just visited Australia and they were also interested in discussing the various things they had seen during those episode. While my Florida students also enjoyed discussing television and junk food. Along with hearing about Tasmanian wild life.

That chat was so much fun when the Mason family asked if we wanted to do a science experiment via Skype we jumped at the chance. This endeavor brought about some fun little challenges. At first, we need to do a bit of research on the list of ingredients that were needed due to some of the names being different in each country. For instance, in Tasmania Powdered Sugar is called Icing Sugar and Baking Powder is Bicarbonate soda. Along with that we had to order a couple of the items from Amazon, which was not a big deal. Except it did mean that we had to readjust our plans and move the experiment back a week. However, for us all that meant was that now my third graders would have the pleasure to visiting and getting to know Ms. Mason and Hana some.

Finally, the day came for the experiment and the stage was set for the following:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Just a Thought

I sent this out as an email a couple of days ago to those I work with, but felt I would share it here as well.

It has been a tough couple of weeks for all of us and we have had a lot to deal with. If I were honest, I allowed a situation over the past couple of weeks to get under my skin, but the truth is there are always going to be things that frustrate us. Maybe by keeping the things that frustrate us as our main focus we are causing the issues to grow if only in our own hearts and minds. Anyway, a friend from Tasmania Liz Mason brought to my attention a TED Video Neil Pasricha: The 3 A's of Awesome. Really it has a great message and is worth watching!!!! I am not saying that I am going to (or we should) ignore situations or that we aren't going to get frustrated or upset. However, I feel the need to start making an effort to remember " The 3 A's of Awesome" and not camp out there.

So here are a few things that brought me joy over the last couple of weeks:

1. Last weekend, I went to Disney my friend Nikki and her 3 year old daughter Kaylee. It was so fun to see that place through a three year old's eyes. Kaylee is one of those expressive kids that everything is exciting for so even the bus ride to the park was thrilling and amazing.

2. Having dinner Tuesday night with my best friend's son Brinton and remembering me witnessing his birth nine years ago. Also, reflecting on what a blessing he, his parents and three brothers have been in my life. Still can't believe it has been nine years.

3. Our video conference with Tasmania Thursday and watching the kids enjoy learning with the Mason family, who had stayed up until 1:00am to talk with us. Liz and her daughters (Amy 16 and Hannah 18) invited us into their home, laughted with us and gave a face to that part of the world. I really want to visit there someday.

What are some of the small joys you have experienced???