Monday, November 23, 2015

My first twitterversary!

I joined Twitter a year ago, and I went into it kicking and screaming. I was at a conference and the session was about social media and education. Everyone went around the table introducing themselves and they gave their twitter handle. I was the only one without one. I might as well have said I don't know what a computer is. The next 45 minutes of the session was focused on convincing me how important and useful it would be if I joined Twitter. I took their word for it and had my account before we left the room. I'm glad I did.
I spent the next few months creating a network of teachers who I follow and who follow me. I have taken part in chats, which occur in the ungodly hours of early Saturday and Sunday morning, and I've met people in real life that I've only known online. It's a constant stream of influence for me, and I check in whenever I need a shot of inspiration.
The highlight for me this year on Twitter was when I commented on a book I read from a famous author. I tagged him in the tweet, and he responded to it! How cool it that? I can reach out to someone who inspires me and they can acknowledge it immediately. Think of the possibilities for our students.
After that, I became a full member of Team Twitter. I see the effects, and I'm a better teacher for it. My students are too young to join, but that doesn't stop me from creating a profile for our school to share with their parents.
So as I reflect on my twitterversary, I came to it reluctantly but I was reminded of how Twitter is like all of technology, in that I still have much to learn.
Follow me at @eileen_lennon.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

My first ISTE

The last day of school was Friday, June 25. I was on my way to Philadelphia at 6am Saturday morning. So my head was already spinning before I even got there. ISTE is the major educational technology trade show that everyone talks about all year, and this was my first trip there. Microsoft paid for my hotel and travel expenses because I became certified in Microsoft Education, which was very cool. My head continued to spin for the next three days. It was great.
I took a lot away with me from the experience. There are many people doing incredible things with technology, and I want to know it all. I found that this is impossible, but I can get closer to that goal by at least being around them.
I advanced what I know about coding and I learned entirely new things. I want to do more programming with my students so I went to the presentation that a group in New Jersey have developed to teach girls how to code. I'm thinking about adding Minecraft to my curriculum, so I saw an amazing teacher from Hawaii show us the things he's doing with his students with it.
Graphite is a great resource, and they sponsored a bowling party where I hung around with other teachers and we couldn't talk fast enough about all the things we do in our classrooms.
The three days flew by and I was exhausted but thrilled. I was inspired by what I saw, and overwhelmed by it all. I can't wait to go again next year.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

No parking

My school is on a busy street, so parking is difficult. Up until a few months ago we could park in our parking lot which was great if you got there early enough to get one of the spots. The later you came to school, the less of a chance you would get one. Some people took that to mean the later you come the more creative you should get with parking in the lot. The intercom would announce throughout the day that a car needs to be moved because it's blocking someone. Leaving on time was out of the question because your car was buried behind four cars blocking you in. It was frustrating and the principal tried to fix it, but nothing worked.
Finally the fire department came in and saw how we were violating the building codes, so they fined the principal and declared the parking lot off-limits. So now no one can park there anymore. Another case of a handful of people ruining it for everyone.
It reminds me of the dynamic in my classroom. I sometimes punish the whole class because of the behavior of a few people. I feel bad about it, but at that moment I feel it's my only choice. My principal couldn't find a good solution in that situation and sometimes I can't either.
So now when I'm walking three blocks from school to where I'm parked, I try to focus on all the great exercise I'm getting.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Lessons from the locker room

I've learned two things since I've joined the gym.
One-I thought you just had to join a gym. Nope, you have to keep going to the gym. Over and over.
Two-you can't rest when you reach a milestone, you always have to try something harder.
When I first walked in, I was pretty overwhelmed. There's lots of complicated machines and scary equipment. Everyone there looks like they know what they're doing and they certainly could beat me up. Needless to say, I felt very out of place.
The one smart thing I did was take the free personal trainer hours offered when I joined. Laura was incredibly optimistic and full of encouragement. I kept going and trying harder not for myself but because I didn't want to disappoint her. She had been so supportive. I wanted to be her star pupil.
It reminded me so much of the classroom environment and how we teach and learn. Some of my students need that encouragement from me, and some don't. Some don't worry about approval and some do. My job is to figure out what each student needs and be that.
I also have to remind students of what they learned. It's good to show them where they started and how far they've come. You can't rest when you've reached a goal, it's just time to make a new one.
It's been about four months and I'm still going to the gym regularly. I see Laura across the room working with her latest student and I smile. She is doing a good thing, and I'm the better for it.
I only hope I can bring some of what I learned in the gym to my classroom.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

I thought I'd eventually be out of a job.

I ask a student to attach a file to an email and I get a blank stare.
I tell the class to open a new tab so they have two websites open at the same time and I have to show them how to do that a few times.
I assume that since they are growing up with technology they naturally know how to use it, but I am shown on a daily basis that this is not the case. They know how to get to their game website and play till their eyeballs fall out, but when I ask them to find a file they created yesterday, they have no idea where it is. Its both disheartening and comforting; I'll never be out of a job.
Their parents use computers, but they started using them when one keystroke could make all their work disappear. They have a fear of computers that is no longer appropriate. These students never had that fear; the computer has been their friend since the beginning. So why are their skills so limited? I guess because they are being taught by fraidy cats.
Technology can be overwhelming and even scary, but I try not to impart that on my students. Technology is transforming our world and their lives. We should embrace it, not keep it at arms length. Even if sometimes it eats our reports and just smiles at us.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

It's National Readathon Day!

As if I needed an excuse to curl up with a good book.
I've been reading voraciously since a young age. On my first trip to the library I came home with 21 books. I couldn't believe they were letting me take home books to read and all I had to do was promise to bring them back when I was done. I knew then that I lived in a great country. I average a trip to the library once a month to this day.
The first chapter book that I fell in love with was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I realized then that books were not just for learning or enjoying, but they could transform your world. I still love that book because I remember how it made me feel. Books have been doing that ever since.
My most impressive accomplishment is that I read The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough in one day. It's 692 pages. That was definitely a situation where I couldn't put it down, so I didn't. I was up early on a Saturday when I started it, and realized sometime in the late afternoon I could get it done in one day, so I kept going. It was late that night when I finished it, and then I couldn't fall asleep afterwards. It was a great day.
Reading can be considered a solitary experience, but I disagree. I'm a member of a few bookclubs, one has been meeting once a month for over 15 years. We've read a lot of books, and enjoyed sharing the experience with each other. Books have given me many joys, and they've also helped me bond with my friends. My Goodreads account doesn't just help me keep track of what I've read and what I want to read, it connects me with even more of my friends. I love seeing what they think about the books I'm reading and finding out what they're reading. I can pick and choose from their recommendations to see what I should tackle next.
Reading has been one of the greatest joys in my life. I love getting lost in a world and then taking a piece of that world back into my own, forever. So on National Readathon Day, I just want to say thank you to the authors of the thousands of books I've read, I can't imagine my life without them.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Sitting in my own classroom

If I was a student of mine, I would drive me crazy.
I took a PD class last week and I was the one being taught something on the computer. I tried to stay on task, but I sometimes got distracted, or bored and went off to look at something else, and I got lost. I needed to ask for help from the person sitting next to me, I even needed help from one of the facilitators of the program at one point. I was a nightmare.
It made me think long and hard about my own classroom. While I can't prevent students from getting distracted or lost, how can I help them get back on track and stay there? To be fair, the workshop was moving pretty quick because they assumed that teachers who are proficient on computers didn't need a lot of help. The problem is the lesson could have been differentiated. All the teachers had different levels of expertise, which made for some problems with the speed of the class. They assumed we could follow along easily, which wasn't always the case. When they had to stop and help too many people, the ones who were ready got bored and wondered off (me.)
It's an inherent problem with computer class; some lessons need specific directions to acquire the skill being taught. Everyone needs to follow step by step, but they might not go at the same speed, so it can be frustrating. I need to better address this problem in my classroom.
I think I will start developing more visual clues for students to help them with the steps they should follow. I will check for understanding even more, if that's possible, and I will move slower, much slower. I will repeat directions five more times than I do right now.
Some kids don't have problems in my class, so I think things are fine. I need to think about the struggling kid, the kid who counts on the person sitting next to them to know what to do.
I learned a lot from the PD class, only half of which was what they were trying to teach me. The rest was what I needed to learn about myself as a teacher.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

BYOD from the NYCDOE

The NYC Board of Education is lifting it's cell phone ban for all students, which is great news if it happened ten years ago. Students have had their phones with them everyday, unless there's a metal detector at the door. In that case there's a van parked across the street from the school that stores the students phones for them everyday for a fee.
My children have carried their cell phones with them. After some natural and unnatural disasters that affected my family (9/11 cut off access to my home that day, flight 587 crashed a mile away from us, and Hurricane Sandy left us homeless for a while) I believed it was important to be able to get in touch with my children in an emergency, so I ignored the rule. They went to school with their phones, but were instructed not to take them out or use them.
The conversations I'm hearing now are how the children will be on their phones all day and not listen to the teacher, or that they'll record video in the classroom that will be a privacy violation of the teacher and other students. Guess what, that's already happening. What we need to do is not ignore reality, but embrace it and make it work to our advantage. Use the medium the students are permanently attached to and reach them where they are right now. We need to stop trying to maintain the classroom from 20 years ago. It's gone. We are constantly playing catch-up in the world that children live in today. It's hard to effectively teach when they know more than we do. Social media is not going away, it's taking over more and more of our lives, and that is not always a bad thing. They can be connected to their teachers all the time, not just 45 minutes each day. They can find other students interested in similar causes and make real change. Focus on the good of this situation, and make it work for you. That's a lesson that children can learn from us too.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Good Writing

I never really thought of myself as a writer. I've written in diaries all my life, but for no one else but me. I've written papers for all sorts of classes, but just to complete an assignment. What writing for a blog has changed for me is that I now write just for the enjoyment of getting my thoughts down and hopefully find an audience for my musings.
What I'm worried about is while I was a good student, I was never taught how to be a good writer. I know nouns and verbs, but good writing is an art. Even as an art form, it still takes lots of work and practice. So I know how to write, but I'm not kidding myself into believing that I actually write well. I hope to practice and just get better by keep trying.
My process is to write these entries and let them ferment. I don't post them immediately, I let them sit for a few days and I revisit them and try to salvage what I can from my horrible first attempt. I will rework the original at least twice before it's ready for public consumption.
I'm jealous of my children; they went to a school where they really learned writing skills. They know how to persuade, infer, captivate. They learned the art, not just the mechanics. So this is my latest attempt at slogging away at writing. Be gentle.