Thoughts of a new teacher. . .

I would never have guessed that the transition from graduate school to “normal” life would be difficult.  Don’t misunderstand me, if I could I would be doing handflips down the street to celebrate being finished with grad school.  However, the feeling that I “should be doing something” is lingering.  I took my kids to the pool yesterday and I kept twitching thinking, “I shouldn’t be sitting here relaxing!  I have a project to do!”  Then, I realized I didn’t – it’s hard to believe it’s finally over!!

So, today, I tried to be productive!  I was inspired by my classmate’s final digital storytelling projects.  I decided to create a Photostory introduction to use at Back to School night this fall for my first grade classroom.  I enjoyed creating the project, it was quick to complete, and I was able to figure out the program with minimal problems.  I tried uploading to Vimeo, but I fount the site to be very slow.  Instead, I uploaded to YouTube but kept the setting private because I didn’t want just anyone viewing the video.  My only issue was my computer, which it seems, is ready to go to the big electronic dump ground in the sky . . . it is on it’s final leg.   I guess it’s time to look into replacing my laptop- any suggestions?

Here is my introduction.  I hope my student’s parents will like it!


This is It!

For all you digital natives- this is Kenny Loggins in 1979, well before you were born, singing the song “This is It.”  As I wrote my previous post about our virtual class, I found this song was going through my mind.  Writing the post was the last thing on my “to do” list for graduate school- ever!

While I am elated to be finished with my Master’s degree, have the opportunity to sleep, exercise, get reacquainted with my husband, my children, and my friends that I hope remember me from 3 1/2 years ago, I also find myself a little sad.  You see, I could also post another one of my favorite songs- “Time of my Life” and no, not the Black Eyed Peas version, but the Dirty Dancing version with nobody putting Baby in the corner!  You see, there are many things that I have enjoyed about our Marymount adventure.

At the top of the list are the people!  My cohort cohorts are the best!  We’ve laughed, cried, commiserated, and supported each other through this entire process.  I have looked forward to spending my weekends with you!  I’ve enjoyed being “Mindy” not Alex or Brian’s mom, Greg’s wife, Mrs. Scott, etc.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know everyone.  It’s been a wild ride!  I am hoping to maintain these relationships once our program is finished!  I am not usually good at maintaining friendships if I don’t see people day-in-day-out~ so this will be a goal I will have to work at!

I have so enjoyed proving to myself that I could succeed at school.  Back in high school, I did not succeed academically.  Going to college was not an option in my family; however, I did not have a wide range of options to choose from because my SAT scores and grades were not stellular.  My real joy at the time was cooking, and although I begged my parents to let me go to culinary school, they insisted on college.  I guess everything works out the way it should, because I have discovered that teaching is my true passion and joy! 

I have enjoyed learning for the first time in my life!  Not the learning part, but the enjoyment part!  I guess it is true that when you find what you are truly interested in, it does not feel like work to learn!  Although I could have done without the deadlines! 😉

I’ve enjoyed blogging!  I’ve always enjoyed creative writing.  In fact, in digging up my ancient SAT scores for my MU application, I found that I listed “journalism” as a major choice back in 1984~ somewhere along the way the 80’s greed got hold of me and that switched to Marketing, but writing has always been a release for me.  I hope to continue blogging in the future.

For the last two years, I have stared at a blank space on the wall in front of my desk at home.  This space has been left blank on purpose.  You see, when my diploma comes in the mail, it will be framed and hung in that space which has motivated me, mocked me, and waited for me to complete my Master’s degree.  I needed that visual to keep me going as much as I needed my cohort cohorts!

So- This is It and I’ve Had the Time of My Life Reston cohort- godspeed and good luck!

I had to include one of my favorite infomercials!  This one is right up there with “pajama jeans” for me! 

But seriously, as the skies darkened and the rain was coming down sideways out in Loudoun County on Friday night, I was relieved to not have to get in my car and drive to Reston for class.  It was nice to be able to roll into my home office, sit in a comfy chair, and “go” to class.  Even better, when class was over, I got up walked out of the room and watched a movie with my kids. 

For the last two years, on a regular Friday night when we have class, I am the person frantically running around after school gets out, getting my caffeine fix at Starbucks, deciding what I can eat fast that will fill me up until 10:00, driving down the Toll Road and calling my husband on the way so he can come to the parking lot and get the kids for the evening, and running into the Reston Center.  Then there is the drive home in the dark, trying to stay awake, and wondering how I’m going to get up for class the next morning.  It has been a fun cycle- NOT!  But was has been fun is getting into class on Friday night and seeing my “cohort cohorts,” sharing war stories from the classroom, clarifying assignments, and simply connecting with people who understand what I am going through better than anyone else in my life.  I have even found myself looking forward to spending Friday nights in class because of these people and the support network they provide.  Even though I am so relieved to be finished with classes, I will miss the cohort members immensely!  So, given the choice between virtual and “real” class- I choose real! 

This was not my first encounter with distance learning.  Prior to embarking on my Marymount adventure, I had to complete 19 undergraduate credits to get my teaching license.  Just a note- if you think you want to be a teacher later in life, do NOT receive a B.S. in Marketing.  None of your undergraduate credits will mean anything to the Department of Education!  Because my kiddos were young when I decided to embark on my second career, child care was an issue.  I knew that I could not find someone to watch them so that I could attend classes in a traditional setting.  Therefore, I explored my options, and decided to enroll in NOVA’s ELI or distance learning program. 

I completed all of these undergraduate credits through NOVA.  This was an affordable option and it really was my only option at the time.  While I appreciated the convenience of these classes, I cannot say that I retained a lot or that my professors really assisted me in any way other than to give me a grade.  The courses were self taught, which was fine for American History but a REAL challenge for Biology!!  I missed the interaction of teacher and students, I could not tell what the professor thought would be important to include on assessments, and I do not think that I learned as much as I would have in a traditional classroom setting.

While I understand that virtual classes and training are the wave of the future, I think that there is something to be said for the face to face interactions of a teacher and a group of students sitting in a room together learning.  I know, I am SO a digital immigrant!

When I saw the assignment for this week asked us to blog about our experiences using the social web to learn, my first thought was, “What do I learn from Facebook?!?” I thought this was what a social web was. After reading our text to learn about the social web, my next thought was, “Well, that’ll be a short post!” You see when it comes to the social web, I am MOST definitely a digital immigrant. I had NO idea what RSS stood for, where it was located, or how to use it. I do not follow blogs, have never logged on to Twitter, and (gasp!) I still get my news from the printed version of “The Washington Post” that is delivered to my doorstep every morning. I enjoy sitting at the breakfast table reading a newspaper.

Using the social web to learn is obviously a new concept to me. I was interested to learn about social bookmarking services. Having a place to save links and tag them to keep them organized sounds like a useful tool. I do search the web for lesson plans and ideas. I’ve always saved the link to these sites under “My Favorites.” About once a year, I go through my favorites and delete the sites that I don’t use regularly or can’t remember why I ever added to my favorites in the first place. Having a place to add a note about why I liked this site would be very useful! I am adding “Figure out social bookmarking services” to my “to do” list for the coming weeks. I think that the classroom applications for students sound wonderful for secondary teachers. I do not think I’ll be able to use these applications with my first-grade students; however, maybe once I get into it myself, I’ll figure out a way to! The phrase, “Teach an old dog new tricks” keeps swirling through my brain every time I sit down to work on class assignments for ED 554!!

Digital Storytelling

I was excited to learn about digital storytelling tools in class this evening! I think this, more than anything else we have covered in class thus far, will be very useful and applicable in the primary elementary grades. Students will love seeing their words and pictures come to life on the computer. I think it will be a great added component of Writer’s Workshop in Language Arts. I think tools like Storybird will be relatively easy for students to use. I’d love to have students create their stories then invite parents in to the classroom to view the projects. I could also see using some of the other programs to create a collaborative class book. I can also see utilizing this on Back-to-School night to introduce myself to parents. First-grade students in my school complete a timeline project, this would be a great unit to integrate technology into and update the traditional paper and photo timeline to the digital age!

My only concern with digital storytelling is implementation in the classroom. In my school, there are four computers in the classroom and a computer lab which we visit for 50 minutes a week. Our TRT and/or assistant do not usually “assist” in the computer lab. I have an image of me with my class of 25 six year olds yelling for my help simultaneously. Not sure how productive that would be! This may need to be a project that is added into the curriculum gradually and rolled out in the second half of the year when students are a little more tech-savvy! Or, maybe I’ll solicit a parent volunteer to run it as a center. I’d love to hear ideas and thoughts that others may have as to how to manage this process in the first-grade classroom.

Promethean Planet

I spent my second day of summer vacation attending a Loudoun County Public Schools professional development workshop! Next year I will have a new Promethean Board installed in my first grade classroom. The possibilities to integrate technology in my classroom using this fabulous tool are endless! I was overwhelmed by the ideas and uses for the boards. I cannot wait to get started using it in my classroom. I think the most difficult aspect of having the board will be finding the time to create flipcharts for everything it can be used to do. My plan for this year is to create flipcharts to use for my morning meeting, attendance, and literacy centers. As time permits, I will look for and utilize the board for additional purposes.

Many of the presenters recommended the website Promethean Planet as an invaluable resource for flipcharts, lessons, calendars, and other applications. This site seems that it will be extremely helpful in the classroom and may come in handy in creating our unit plan for this class as well!

    My favorite media character from my generation: Kermit the Frog

Chapter 8 included a brief history of media and media literacy. In this section, Jacobs stated that “the introduction of television in the classroom in the 1960s was widely criticized; today, television is a staple of learning.” (Jacobs, 2010) This statement resonated with me, because in many ways, TV has been a staple of my education and life. I was 2 years old when Sesame Street was first aired on PBS in 1969. I vividly remember having a standing date with my best friend, Cheryl, on my family’s faux leather recliner to watch Sesame Street every morning when I was in preschool. I learned my letters, numbers, and much more from those early morning dates. Did I realize I was learning? No! I thought I was having fun watching TV with my best friend. I remember watching and learning from the TV in a classroom throughout my school experiences. I gathered around the “big screen” TV in the student union of George Mason University in January 1986 and watched in horror as the Challenger exploded in space. Now, students may experience such monumental events on their phones, computers, or Ipads, but the experience of instantaneous knowledge is the same.
My generation’s TV has been replaced by the internet, YouTube, cell phones, video games, social networking sites- but it is all still media! When the kids in my classroom become teachers in 20 or 30 years, these forms of media will be second nature to them. Just as my teachers may have instructed me on savvy TV watching, I need to teach my students to be savvy media consumers. The textbook does an outstanding job of outlining ways to integrate media literacy in the classroom with the five core concepts of media literacy (page 139). Additionally, the critical-thinking questions “designed for students to consider and apply to each media message they encounter” are good starting points for meaningful classroom discussions, blog topics, mathematical analysis, social studies and science topics. Integrating media knowledge and use in the classroom is important to educate, engage, and make lessons relevant for students!

There has been a lot of debate during our class discussions about technology use in the classroom and how much is too much. After reading Chapter 8 and watching the link on the ED443@Reston blog about “Visions of Students Today” found at: I am more convinced than ever that we as teachers must embrace technology and integrate it in our classroom, regardless of our comfort level with using technology. The statistics and sentiments expressed in the Visions video are startling: students spend “over half of their waking life with media consuming over 11 hours of media every day.” Whether or not I believe, as a teacher or a mother of two preteen sons, that this is a good thing, it is the reality in which we live today. The kids in my classroom are members of the media generation. I found this video on YouTube when I did a Google search for “media literacy videos.” In the video, first graders are demonstrating their media savvy and how to enter a comment on their class blog. I have been skeptical about the use of blogs in a primary elementary school classroom. After watching this video, I am now thinking about trying to create a class blog in my first grade classroom next year.

The Heidi Hayes Jacobs video clip was thought provoking.  Many of the ideas she presented were a radical departure from the current educational system in our country.  Her proposal to group kids by ability rather than by a traditional “grade” based on their age is revolutionary for the public school system in the United States.  While I think this idea certainly makes sense both for mental and social abilities, I wonder how it could be implemented and recognize that to accomplish this.  The educational system as we know would have to be turned upside down from kindergarten to the doctorate level in college. 

I also wonder how our competitive society would handle their precious child not being moved up to the next ability group when their similarly-aged peer gets promoted.  I am reminded of my “open-classroom” elementary school in the early 1970s in Montgomery County, MD.  My classrooms had no walls and similarly aged children were taught in “pods.”  I was placed in a 3rd -4th grade “team” when I was in fourth grade and my mother was concerned that I was “low” or “underperforming” because I wasn’t in the 4th-5th grade team.  I can only imagine what such an arrangement would result in at the school in which I currently teach.

Unfortunately, I had a difficult time following the dueling discussions in our class after the video.  I wonder if we are creating a generation of ADHD students when we have one discussion being conducted verbally and another discussion being conducted via the web.  I found it distracting and difficult to attend to either discussion well.  I think the web discussion had an interesting strand of discussion regarding NCLB and the SOLs; but the strand was obscured at times with some class members’ internal discussions and inside jokes.

Valid points were being discussed orally as well; however the constant interruption of typing or laughing at the web discussion interrupted the flow of conversation.  I’m glad to have witnessed this type of “backchat” but I must admit, I did not enjoy it as a student and I would probably not employ it in my classroom.  For me, I feel the need to focus my energy on human interaction and look at someone while they are speaking.  Constantly having to look at the screen and figure out what was being said out loud was a little overwhelming for me.

 Dan Myer makes some excellent points in his podcast.  After the discussion of his podcast last night, I decided to sit down and watch it for myself; however, I must be honest, I did not feel it would be of much value to my job as a kindergarten teacher.  Boy was I wrong!  What struck me as quite interesting is that the way Myer proposes math should be taught is exactly how I teach math in KINDERGARTEN.  I adhere to the “Investigations in Math” curriculum that the county provided me.  I do not have a textbook for kindergarten math.  Instead, I provide students with hands-on learning experiences. Every math lesson I teach is taught with inquiry and application to the world around them.  

In the beginning of the year, I placed a variety of math manipulatives out in my classroom.  I had small groups of children to work with each manipulative for a period of time.  I did not give any directions as to what they needed to do with each, other than some general guidelines needed for five year olds- like don’t put them in your ear, mouth, or nose.  During this lesson, my IA and I walked around the room and asked the children open ended questions.  The purpose of the lesson was to have the children familiarize themselves with the materials; however, right away I could assess which students already understood patterning, because they took the unifix cubes and made a chain of patterns.  I knew which students could sort and classify because they took the attribute blocks and sorted by shape or color or size.   When I taught them about patterns, we look for patterns in the classroom, in nature, in the school.  Pretty soon, my students can’t go anywhere or do anything without telling me, “It’s a pattern!”  They translate that knowledge to reading and even begin to see patterns in words by the middle of the year.

 So, I guess my question is- what happens to this type of learning by the time students reach secondary education?  I know from personal experience, both in my own learning and helping my sixth grader in his pre-Algebra class, that the majority of instruction is communicated via the textbook.  I agree with Dan Meyer- we need to provide children of all ages with rich, hands-on learning experiences in all subjects to help them make connections to the real world!

I guess it just proves my point that you learn everything you need to know in Kindergarten!