Category Archives: Learning

Wow – Where Did the Time Go! Or, Was I Procrastinating?

I meant to take a short break from writing… due to the busy time of the Holidays.  I reread my last post and, apparently, my student’s question about Thanksgiving and Christmas being the same break was a prophesy for me.   After I graded over Thanksgiving, I assigned another essay to be due before Christmas break.  I encouraged students to turn it in early for some extra credit, and five students did.  The rest, well, they validated the reason I do not give weeks to write an essay or create a project.  We work in class for 2-4 days and then it is due two days later.  This gives the kids a chance to turn it in early for some extra credit or ask me for help before the due date.  But I digress…

Of course, I have Romeo and Juliet essays to grade right now, but procrastinating by writing can be more fun.  See, I learn from the students every year.   The essays were due on Friday by 7:30 a.m.  and we did not have school.  The busses would not start due to the extremely cold weather we are experiencing.  Luckily for the students, our district began using Turnitin.com this year.

Little side story here: Eleven years ago several of us asked for the district to purchase a license to use the website.  However, we were told the money would have to come out of the English Department’s budget of $500.  Yes, you guessed it, the license cost more than that.  Evidently, none of the administrators saw a use for checking the originality of science, history, foreign language, and every other subject’s writing assignments.  Thus, while the English department was teaching proper citation of sources and how not to plagiarize, the rest of the school may have been fine with copying from Wikipedia, the bane of all researchers!  Never fear, we asked again around year six, and were told there was no money, which was true.  In fact, the district had to layoff dozens of teachers and two curriculum department administrators. Luckily, this year the Teaching and Learning Department, formally known as the Curriculum Department, has grown beyond pre-cuts days and saw the advantage to using Turnitin.com.  (I guess it makes one sound more intelligent or more powerful if the department has two names.)    

So far, only the English and Language Arts Department is using it, but I am sure the Math, Science, and the rest of the departments will learn how to use it during one of our weekly Professional Development meetings.  

Back to the main topic (Procrastination): My favorite feature of Turnitin.com is the time stamp.  I can have the submission deadline  be midnight or 7:30 a.m. or whenever.  I can then learn when the student turned it in.  I also do not have to deal with using instructional time to have students staple papers together (no one owns staplers), needing to print during class, and listening to excuses of forgotten folders containing essays at home.  Some students still have the excuses, “I couldn’t submit my essay” or “I do not have Internet” or “My printer was out of ink or broken, or “the dog urinated on my laptop.”  Therefore, I have instructed them to (A) email a copy to me or share it with me on Google Docs, (B) bring a typed or hand- written copy to class to give me as they explain the problem, (C)  print from our computer lab before school, or (D) take ownership of YOUR problem and solve it.  The reality is that 92.4%  of the excuses come about because of procrastination.  (I found that statistic on the Internet, so it must be true!)

Although, the company checks originality, it also enables teachers to grade the essays online.  There is an automatic grammar and punctuation checker; however, it is not always correct.  For example, it always indicates the title of the essay and the first sentence is a run-on-sentence.  Teachers are able to create their own comments; thus, no more writing the same comment over and over again.  We merely highlight the mistake and click the comment!  I am finding it an easier way to grade, as long as I have an Internet connection.

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Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Goals, Humor, Learning, Lessons from students, Measuring Student Success, Writing

The Authentic Audience – Blogging

I am thinking Kidblog.com is working.  Currently, I do not have high expectations as far as writing skills are concerned.  I did not have the students write rough drafts.  I wanted them to write and post quickly.  Their peers did comment on the need for remediation in some areas, but this is not the forum I am using to evaluate writing skills.  (It will be later.)  For now, I am using it as one way to discuss literature, and the comments have been good.  They do have room for improvement, but without any modeling, the kids have done a good job.

Of course, I do have some students who are extremely anxious about sharing their thoughts with others.  In talking with the parents I have learned this is not shyness.  It is anxiety.  For now, I have allowed theses two kids to write their responses on notebook paper.  I hope to have them give me an alias.  As long as I know it, I can give them credit for commenting on other’s blogs.

As all of our computers are tied up with testing for the next two weeks, I will have the students complete one blog on their own.  By the end of the nine weeks, they will pick one response to revise and I will use a rubric I developed to evaluate their writing skills.

I have a good feeling about this.

Students' Apple iMac G5 computers at Faculty o...

Students’ Apple iMac G5 computers at Faculty of Informatics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)  What I wish we had at school.

English: Students working in the Statistics Ma...

English: Students working in the Statistics Machine Room of the London School of Economics in 1964. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) What we currently have.

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Ready to Teach

Thank Heaven last week is behind us.  We survived assessment testing and little instructional time.  This next week will feel more normal with a writing assignment and actual teaching.

Of course, last week also gave me a chuckle.  An Honors student looked at our text book and asked, “Is this just full of stories?”  In an effort to not be sarcastic, I answered, “It also has poems, essays, a play, and part of an epic.”  However, some of the things I wanted to say were:

- “No, it has math problems, too.”

- “Of course not, the book merely has disconnected words.”

- “Are you sure you belong in Honors?”

- “No.  It is just a heavy weight and part of the President’s fitness plan for the youth of America.  Here, you need another book.”

Well, back to teaching!

 

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Staying Positive During Assessment Week

Last year, I really began to stress out.  I felt ill many times and became distracted by all of the noise.  I was taking it personally that “everyone” wanted to judge my ability as a teacher.  It is not that I doubt my abilities.  Am I the best teacher ever?  Hardly.  However, I work with them everyday.  Every day I have learned from my colleagues.  They do whatever it takes.

When I was in high school, the athletes around me motivated me also.  I swam with some of the best in the state.  Coach (for the first month I thought that was his name) made me swim in the sprinter’s lane.  These guys swam the 50 free in 23 seconds.  One day Coach gave us a set of 10 x 50 on 30 seconds.  If we swam the two laps in 25 seconds we would have 5 seconds rest before we swam the next one.  Only Coach, with his wisdom, experience, and sadism, told me to swim breaststroke, the slowest stroke, and my best time was 29.5 seconds!  How was I going to swim 10 of these in a row in 30 seconds with half a second rest? Coach had a T-shirt that with “Rule #1: Coach is always right.” On the front, and “Rule 2: If you think Coach is wrong, see Rule #1.”

"Retired" Coach being a commentator at the State Swim Meet.

“Retired” Coach being a commentator at the State Swim Meet.

Of course, I tried my best.  And, my teammates encouraged me to do my best.

Many say swimming is an individual sport, like a teacher alone in a classroom.  However, my teammates wanted all of us to swim fast.  All would succeed! And, my colleagues share this sentiment.  They have always shared and collaborated to have every child learn and improve.

Each day, I see the great things the teachers around me are doing and I marvel.  How can I keep up?  What can I do?  It is the kind of challenge that makes teaching fun!  (The students also create a challenge, which is fun most of the time.)

Luckily, I have realized that my teaching will survive the scrutiny made from assessments indifferent students take.   Survive?!  On the contrary. My teaching will improve as I tackle the challenges of devoting six – eight days for these tests and a shortened schedule for five days as other students take the graduation test!

images  Assessments?  They are nothing compared to Coach’s workouts.

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Another Sunday… Continued

I slept on my dilemma:  to have students share laptops, or to have students write on paper.  I decided to let the classes share.  It worked out well.  The students were able to help one another create their blogs.  Of course, they have to finish the work for homework, and I gave them two days to complete the assignment.

Interestingly, I had students complete a survey that asked them if they would be completing the blog at home or the public library.  Out of 150 students, only three have said they would need the public library.  Our students have the resources at home that we cannot provide at school.  This is good news!  As for the three without computers or Internet access, I can work with them at school.  I can find one computer during their lunch period or study hall.

I wondered if blogging would work, but I already had one student ask if she could write more posts than the required ones!  Since I am trying to avoid sarcasm, I refrained from saying, “No!  There will be no extra writing and no fun!”

Another teacher is trying the same blogging site and we are collaborating on what is working and what needs improvement.  I will keep you posted on what we learn.  If you have any experiences, ideas, or questions, I would love to hear from you.  Thanks!

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Can I Have a Pass to Wendy’s?

The first day of school.  It brings all emotions from fear to trepidation to excitement.  Not just with students or teachers, even with a principal.  For example, last night, our principal posted on Facebook,  “So excited for tomorrow and the first day of school.  Hope I can sleep!  Here’s to a great school year!”  Of course, I facetiously commented, “I probably shouldn’t tell you this but…”

She didn’t bite.  She has been a teacher and an administrator for a while, AND she is a mom.  There. is. NO. fooling. moms.

Speaking of Moms, my wife, who works from home, LOVES the start of school.  She hosts a big lunch time party when I go back to school.  I bet she has another party when the kids begin.  The great thing about the second party is that she never asks me to clean the house, nor does she really talk about it.

Anyway, today was an awesome day!  The students in my classes are awesome.  I look forward to seeing the Honors students written assignments from the summer.

There was one thing today that made me laugh today.  It was a first.  No, it wasn’t a kid in the wrong room, or a freshmen being late because he went to Spanish instead of English.  As immature as I can be, I don’t find this funny. These things happen.

Let me give some background information.  We have Commons.  Many moons ago, before I began teaching, the school had too many students to put all of the kids in study halls.  The administrators had a good idea.  Place seniors, later adding juniors because of increased enrollment, in the lunch room (A.K.A. Commons.)  In other words, upper classroom, because of maturity, can spend a study hall in the lunch room.

Moving forward to today… I am one of the teachers assigned to Commons duty for period 2.  It is not a lunch period; it is 8-8:45 a.m.  This is a fun duty.  I get to walk around and talk to former students.  They are more mature and doing homework.  It is a warm and fuzzy feeling.  Strangely, today provided a memorable moment:

Student: Why doesn’t the breakfast line accept credit cards?

Me: Well, businesses who use credit cards have to pay a fee to the credit card company.  I guess the school district does not want to spend the 1-2% to allow students to use credit cards.  (Why does this kid have a credit card is my first thought.)

Student: Can I have a pass to Wendy’s?

Wendy's

Wendy’s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Me: (laughing which is a little unprofessional, but I was caught off guard)  I can’t do that.

Student: Why not?

Me: Well, number 1 – I don’t give passes out of Commons.  Number 2 – Wendy’s is not open.  Number 3 – I can not give you permission to leave the building.  Only the principal can.  Yes, I threw the principal under the bus if the young man decides to ask her for a pass to Wendy’s.  Hey, that is why she gets paid the big bucks,  to put up with me, right?

Needless to say, this opening day is number two on the most memorable first days.  Very first day ever, 1988, will always be most memorable.

This is going to be a funny year.

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Achieving Goals: Face Forward

It is getting closer to the start of the year, and my To Do list for school and home keeps growing like the weeds in my flowerbeds.  (There’s another thing to add to the list.)

As I prepare for the opening week, I keep thinking of what our surf instructor in Costa Rica kept telling me:  “When you stand up, face forward and look where you are going, not at your feet or where you have been!”  IMG_0825

It seems like good advice for students.   Keep your eyes forward!

Freshmen can be intimidated by mature upperclassmen, and I am not referring to bullying.  I remember a time before a class period was going to begin.  A group of boys were talking and joking while I was grading papers at my desk.   Suddenly, the room became silent.  I looked up at the boys wondering what happened when I heard, “Hi Mr. W.”  Walking into my room was McKenzie, a senior.  We exchanged pleasantries, she handed me some paperwork and she left.  I don’t think the boys moved.  They just stared in that awkward stalker-like manner.  The boys were certainly intimidated by her.  I am willing to bet that they had trouble keeping their eyes forward and refocusing their thoughts during class.   Luckily, they are teenage boys and forget most things within twenty-four hours.  Focus would happen the next day…maybe.

There are other ways students can forget to face forward or focus on their goals.IMG_0809

I have seen students come to class discussing what “he” said or “she” said and this gossip overtakes their learning.  (However, perhaps they are preparing for a new reality serious similar to the “Housewives of —“ and they will be wealthier than myself.)

I have had students argue with me that they did not need to pass English 9 to graduate.  I brought in other authority figures.  All but one student at least believed the guidance counselor.  This stubborn know-it-all spent his summer retaking the class.  Since I have been married, I have learned that some people are more stubborn than others.

I have learned that during certain times of the year students really struggle with facing forward; for instance, during the NCAA basketball tournament.  Many a student is looking at the past records and statistics to fill out a bracket.  Schoolwork loses its luster as game after game is on TV.

Without a doubt, all of us parents and teachers have struggled with facing forward in high school.  Imagine if we could go back in time.   I am positive I would think high school would be pretty easy.  I thought I had a lot of responsibility, like study, do some chores, and go to swim practice.  Oh, and I HAD to complain about doing the chores!

Today, I still do homework, do some chores, and drive my kids to practices.  Plus, a few other things that go along with marriage, children, pets, etc.

IMG_0858This school year I want to remember to face forward.  I want to be less sarcastic.

What will you face forward for?

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Fishing with Captain Ron

IMG_0240Our third day in Costa Rica had us up early and driving to meet Captain Ron for fishing on Lake Arenal.  I spoke with Ron several times prior to our visit, and he was ready to teach our family a few things about fishing. Even our omniscient son.  (He is 13 and knows everything!)

Ron said it would be easier if we found this little path on our side of the lake and he would pick us up on the shore.  Since we found a cow path of a driveway in the dark, I figured a path to the shore would be easier.  Plus, we would be able to see Captain Ron and his boat from the road.  I was almost completely incorrect.  (Luckily, I have been married for 18 years and am use to being wrong.)

Due to the whole area being a rainforest, we only occasionally saw the boat from the road, which was about ½ kilometer above the shoreline.   However, finding the path in daylight was easy.  It was as wide as the car, but I am pretty sure our four-wheel drive SUV could not make it up the muddy slope.  We decided to hiked to the boat.

Captain Ron welcomed us, made us wash the mud off our shoes and feet, gave us some safety tips, and got us started right away.  He was gregarious and taught us about the culture and area.  While he regaled us with stories about fishing, the volcano, and his moving to Costa Rica, I couldn’t help but notice that I had seen and heard him before.  It was an eerie feeling.  Finally, it occurred to me.  He was Bruce Campbell, the actor who plays Sam Axe on Burn Notice.  When I told my 13 year-old, the biggest Burn Notice fan on the planet, he agreed.  We mentioned it to Captain Ron, and he laughed, saying he had only seen the show once.IMG_0257

Captain Ron and our youngest, who decided to use his head as bait.

Captain Ron and our youngest, who decided to use his head as bait.

He kept to his cover story that he moved from San Diego and has been fishing Lake Arenal for over 9 years.  However, Andy and I still think we may have been helping him scout a location for a future episode or even being secretly filmed as extras during one of the peaceful scenes, which accounts for about thirty seconds of the show.

Nevertheless, Captain Ron fed us the best banana bread our family has ever tasted, sandwiches even my finicky daughter loved, fresh pineapple, and plenty of sodas, juice, and water.  He did offer to bring beer, but I thought it was too early for the kids to be drinking.

Ron was true to his word.  He taught us how to troll, which was extremely easy and effective that morning.  And, he taught us how to cast properly, but the fish did not bite.  Thus, we did more trolling, which allowed us to admire the volcano, the mountains, and the rainforest. IMG_0260

I guess it is like reading a novel.  Sometimes freshmen get focused on the ending: how many fish did I catch?  Consequently, they miss the characters, in this case Captain Ron; the description of the scenery, for instance the volcano;  and information on the culture.  I am glad we were able to take the time to enjoy the whole “freshman” experience.

My catch!

My catch!

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High and Wet Adventures in Costa Rica

Day 1 in Costa Rica.

The drive was worth it!  We woke up to a breathtaking view.  Waking up first, I decided to explore the surroundings and make sure all was safe.  After all, who knew if a howler monkey or its troop would wake the family, or if a sloth would leap from a tree and chase me!

I ventured down a path carved into the side of the mountain.  I could hear rushing water, and I eventually came to the creek.  The owners of the house had built a small bench under a roof to allow visitors to sit and become one with nature.  After a few minutes, I was tired of being “one” with the mosquitos and the rushing water made me want to pee.  Instead of relieving myself in the forest, I walked back up to the house.

Soon, the rest of the family rose from slumber and wandered off to explore.  There were no sloth attacks, but two panthers kept following the kids around.  Ok, they weren’t panthers; they were domestic cats and only dangerous to a mouse they caught.  The kids found the path to the creek and the “Aztec ruins” as my eight year old called them.  They were actually the frame-work for a bed and breakfast being built.  His imagination spread to the other kids and an hour of fun ensued.

Later this first day, we travelled to Sky-Adventures.  Three of the family wanted to zip line through the rain forest.  They said they had fun.

Ready to Zip line

Ready to Zip line

Personally, I think they were lying.  The eight year old and I wanted nothing to do with that and the thirteen year old, who has zip-lined, decided to hike with his little brother (and try to lose Dad.)  We went on a hike that had seven hanging bridges, and Matthew and I overcame our fear of heights!  (Still not ready for the speeding on a cable through trees.)  During our hike we marveled at several waterfalls.  Then, the boys decided to try to lose Dad and turned the hike into a cross-country race.  I think we finished the three-hour hike in less than two hours.

IMG_0203In the evening we went to the Tabacon Resort for the hot springs.  They were very relaxing and a buffet dinner that allowed us to taste local food.  Let me put this in perspective.  The last time I ran or jogged was 1984.  It was preseason training for the swim team, and I cheated.  I got a ride from a girl.  This training practice did not help me as I chased after my sons.   Consequently, after running a few kilos because I feared my kids would leave me to the wild beasts of the rain forest, I was ready for a relaxing evening in my element: water. The hot springs were perfect!

Tomorrow: Fishing with Captain Ron!

Cover of "Captain Ron"

Cover of Captain Ron

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Curves, Dirt, Darkness and Our First Day

State Flag of Costa Rica

State Flag of Costa Rica (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The excitement of vacationing in Costa Rica reached its crescendo when we landed in San Jose.  We had researched, packed, and reviewed our Spanish.  We were ready for the first day!

First stop: customs.  A word of advice: when asked the reason of the visit, it is best to not be facetious with the agent.  Either it was a language barrier or he did not have a sense of humor.  My answer to his question: “To set up a Tanning salon.”

Second stop: rental car pick up.  We were advised to rent a four-wheel drive vehicle.  The rental car process took some time.  Nonetheless, by 2:30, we were almost ready to leave.  We needed lunch.  There was a restaurant next to the rental place, so ate lunch – a very, very, very long lunch.  (Costa Ricans don’t seem to believe in fast food.)  Despite this delay, I felt we would have no problem arriving before darkness set in.

Third stop: Hacienda Encartada at Lake Arenal.  Mapquest indicated it would take two and a half hours to drive there.

Incidentally, I have been driving for a few years – my first car being a ’65 Chevy Bel Aire sedan.  It easily sat 6 teenagers, and more if the trunk was utilized when we went to the drive-in.  I thought I had seen everything.  Silly me.

As we left San Jose, I noticed the highway was not like the Interstates at home.  There were three lanes: always two lanes uphill and one lane downhill.  Along the sides of the road vendors sold fresh food, and cars would quickly brake and stop and purchase a snack or dinner.  I also noticed that sharp turns around mountains on roads with no guard rails were a greater deterrent to speeding than police cars in the medians.  I started to believe Mapquest incorrectly estimated the drive time.

As a result of the slower speed, our excitement started to fad.  Spectacular views greeted us around every bend; nevertheless, sitting on a plane and then in a car became monotonous.  However, about two hours into our journey, the trip got a little more interesting.  The paved road suddenly ended.  No warning.  Just dirt!  Only, the GPS said I was on the highway.  In addition, this dirt highway would reduce to one lane for bridges over the numerous rivers.   I knew Mapquest incorrectly estimated the drive time.

In spite of these obstacles, I confidently reassured the family we would arrive before dark.  After all, we only had another hour or more to go, and it was only about 4:45 p.m.  Did you know that the sun sets between 5:00 and 6:00 o’clock year round in Costa Rica?  Me either.  As a result, we had to search for a dirt driveway in complete darkness.  Plus, Costa Rica does not have street names or addresses.  If you want to mail a letter, you address it: Jose Amigo, 400 meters west of the church and 150 meters south of the Best Western, Tamarindo, Costa Rica.  Luckily for us, my daughter’s super hero power is night vision.  She kept telling me to turn, but I could not see any path.  Finally, I trusted her.  We drove a kilometer on a muddy, pot-holed cow path to a house on the side of a mountain.

We cooked some food we bought at a super market, which was really the size of a 7-11 store.  Then, we hit the sack.

IMG_0168

Daylight awoke us to a spectacular view of Lake Arenal and the Arenal Volcano.

With this adventure in mind, I think of the first day for the freshmen.  Filled with excitement, they plan the routes to their classes, what they will wear, and pack their school supplies.  Next, they sit in classroom after classroom, hearing similar rules, different procedures, and becoming bored.  Once in a while, some teachers take away the asphalt and make the students sit up and take notice.  Or, lunch rolls around with discussions of classes and teachers (or cute girls and cute boys).  Of course, when the day ends, darkness arrives in the form of “nap time.”  At least I always need one at the end of Day 1.

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