Pink Eye

I have pink eye. And yes, it sucks.

The other thing that sucks is that tonight is parent teacher conferences, or as we say in our school, student-led conferences. The students come in and present information from each of their classes to their parents, and instead of all the the teachers sitting in the gym and getting monstrous headaches, the students come to our rooms and talk about things that are going on in their classes. It is a much better setup. I like these conferences a lot. I really like being there and talking to the parents. Since I have pink eye, and my wife and kids are all sick as well, I decided that I should come home and help them. When everyone is sick, just being there is a lot of help. So, I decided that I would set my school laptop up in my room and be home with my family. I am doing it through Skype. Below is a picture of what it looks like while I am waiting for people to come talk to me.

I must admit that it is awesome to be able to do this. So cool.

Have a Good Life.
Here is a video in two parts that this college (Abilene Christian University) produced called "Connected."

The funniest part is that it is playing the video on the iPhone is not shown in widescreen! Classic. Just goes to show that not only is this a crappy way to get people to come to your school, but it also shows that not everyone is on board with this, which is how it has to work if it is to succeed.

The other thing that is hilarious about this is that they totally overlook (at least in this video) any educational possibilities that exist for the iPhone/iTouch.

"This new iPhone is so great, it shows me how to get to class late on my first day! Thanks, ACU!"

The video is actually pretty funny, and makes me want one for each of my students even less. I guess it shows that maybe my dreams won't really happen because then we would all be dorks. Thanks ACU!

Have a Good Life.

Interesting Things Happen When You Listen

Yesterday, one of the teachers that was having a problem and discussed it with me gave some good feedback to other people. She didn't say anything to me about it, but other people sure did. She came in and talked to me and I sat there and listened, said that I would do what I could, and then followed up with her later in the day and this morning. All I really did was listen and make sure that she knew I cared about resolving the situation. That is important. The hard thing will be making sure that I remember that when I am an administrator.

Have a Good Life.

Why No Courses about Students?

Here is my question of the day for my administration program: Why don't we learn anything relating to dealing with students (or parents)? That is a huge issue for administrators. We learn interpersonal skills and that is great, but there really should be a class on dealing with kids and working through attitudes, anger, depression, etc. Every administrator that I have known has dealt more with kids than with teachers. We have all these courses about dealing with teachers and making them better (and maybe they teach this because they want us to deal with teachers more), but the reality is that we are so busy dealing with kids that we don't have time to make it to the classroom and observe and help teachers. Maybe they think that because we are teachers we already know how to deal with students. But it is very different when you are an administrator and not just a teacher. I should think about this more.

Administration Day 2

Here is a rundown:
Announced when it was time to change classes
busted some kids on tardies
busted some kids for fighting
dealt with an upset teacher (three times)
gave a kid a hug
forgot to release everyone at 2:30

So, today was a much better day for administrative duties. It seemed more real than last week and I am glad, because last Thursday was not that fun. One upset teacher did not want to burden me with anything, but I told her to just go for it, I've got to be baptized by fire, I guess. She has been dealing with a student that is very passive aggressive since the first quarter, and she has just now reached the breaking point. I talked to her and realized that he is doing things to make sure that he doesn't look like he is screwing around, but that he is "not one to make trouble" (his words). I realized that there is a lot of passive aggressive behavior going on at schools and kids love it so much (and adults, too) because it is easy to get away with things. I think that we ought to have a training about passive aggressive behavior because almost every problem I dealt with had to do with that. Some were more aggressive than passive, but most are things where the kids can get away with things and still try to seem innocent. For example, one kid was "helping" a kid gather his spilled papers by pushing them to him with his feet. Right, that is a good way to "help" someone that you have had problems with numerous times before. Anyway, it was pretty silly. I think it would be very beneficial if all middle school teachers and administrators had training in identifying and dealing with passive aggressive behavior. It just makes sense to arm them with some knowledge about what it is. Maybe they already know, but I didn't understand it until Leigh VandenAkker explained it to me last summer. On Friday, I explained to some of my students what the passive aggressive behavior was that they were exhibiting, and once they knew, they seemed willing to try to change it (we will see ;).

In a more humorous note, I had to be the bell ringer today. That meant that I had to get on the loudspeaker and announce when it was time to move to the next class. When you get on, it makes a doorbell sound and then you can make your announcement. What I should have done is just let it make the doorbell sound and not say anything. At the end of the day, I forgot to ring the bell to let everyone out, so it was two minutes late. Some teachers decided they didn't care that I was late and they let the students out anyway. I got on at 2:32 and said, "Oh, I forgot to ring the last bell! Everyone get out of the building fast!" I thought it was funny, but didn't hear anyone laugh ;(.

So, I know that you have to be careful when touching students in any way, but I gave a kid a hug today. He seemed like he needed it, and so I gave him a hug when he apologized to me for being non-compliant. I was already reprimanded by the school psychologist, so now I know. Oh, well, I am just an intern. The school psychologist also mentioned that he got tears in his eyes after I gave him a hug. Was it a good thing to do? I don't know, maybe? Was it bad? I don't know, maybe. In the immortal words of Michael Scott, "Am I a hero? [pause] I really can't say, but yes."

Have a Good Life.

iPod Touch Update

As I sit here typing this blog on my wife's iPod Touch, I am rethinking the idea that I had about iPods in the classroom. It would be pretty hard to convince some people to invest in a whole classroom set of iPods. So what I am thinking is that if I can get five or six (still less than two grand) then I can do something else that I am interested in doing. What I really want to do is have some learning areas where they can have some self-directed learning experiences. I would like to set it up so that they can go to the different stations and do different things. I would like to have a station for reading, one for writing, one for web stuff. There are a lot of possibilities that we could do but it would be really neat to have them work on some things all by themselves. So I am going to focus on getting a few for the classroom and that is it. The district has mini-grants available, and our PTA is doing some grants for teachers, so I think that I might be able to get some money to buy them. Then we could use them two or three times per week, and that would be really near. Plus, we could see how well it actually works before investing in a classroom set.

By the way, this takes a bit longer to type on the Touch, but I don't think it's that bad. The software does a great job of correcting my typos. There are a few times where it gets it wrong, but it is very accurate.

Have a Good Life.

New to Me Software

Typeit4me is a program that I have heard about but never tried, until today. It is cool. With the "Utah Pandemic Flu" that will inevitably kill us all, I have had a lot of sick students. So, just about every day, I get an email from the attendance office that says something like,


Student has been out ill this week and homework has been requested.
Please send his work to the Attendance Office, his brother will take it
home today. Thanks

I have a system in place for this very thing, and I like it. I have a website with all the info that my students need to complete an assignment. I do this on purpose because all but 2 of my students (and they are sisters) have internet access and home, and everyone can access the internet here at school. This way, when students come and ask me what we did yesterday, I point them to the website, and say, "EVERYTHING you need is there!"

So, when I get an email from attendance, now, I can just respond with a few characters and it will punch in all the info for me. It is wonderful. Here is a video.

I don't know if my computer is acting up today or if it this program, but things have been incredibly sluggish since I installed Typeit4me. Earlier, when the prefpane was open, it iStat was showing that the prefpane was using 90% of my memory! Yikies! Now you can see it is just Firefox. Double yikies!

Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

Have a good life.

What are we teaching them?

My students are chatting via video call tomorrow with Ginger's students, and Ginger wisely suggested that we prepare for the meeting. I framed it like this:

Students, you will be in three groups researching one of these topics: (1. The city where these kids live, 2. What is a charter school and 3. TPLC, the school the kids attend.) You will be talking to them tomorrow on a video call and doing this research will help you be prepared, so write down things you know about your topic, write down some things you want to know, then you can get on a computer and start finding and writing down things that you learned. (It is basically a K-W-L chart that one student understood and drew as such on her paper.) The point is to be able to ask thoughtful questions that will help you learn more about them and their life.

I told them they needed to be able to ask the students their questions, but they should be meaningful questions. As I was roaming around the room looking at what they were doing, I was confused at what they were researching. A few of them found the school's website. Four or five of them had a page open about the state but were looking at the flag and finding out what the state emblem, state tree, state bird, state motto --I can see the state motto meaning something, because they could ask whether the students know it and if they apply it to their lives (but I don't think they are going to ask that)--, and other trivia questions about the state. Is it just me, or is that just frivolous stuff that doesn't really mean anything?

I pictured myself as an elementary school teacher making them do that for each state in the nation--much of what I remember from elementary school was just time-sucking research that didn't mean anything beyond the worksheet. Am I wrong, are our ES teachers better than that? Or am I the one at fault for not explaining it better? (Wouldn't be the first time that happened!)

Have a good life.

Talent Show and Building Community

Today our school did a talent show, and some parents were able to come and watch their students perform. The students all performed very well and the classes watching were very respectful and polite. They impressed me.

I thought it was cool that the parents could come in and watch, but I am sure some could not make it. One thing we could do to help them see it is broadcast it on I am planning on doing this for my students' book projects at the end of this month (just waiting for district approval ;). One added benefit of the streaming the talent show is that it would be a way to build community support, an essential part of a successful school.

A school with healthy level of community support will be a better school than one which doesn't. If two schools are essentially the same, but one school has enormous community support, it will be a better, more inviting, more successful school, with better student achievement.

I am sure this is not an easy thing to do, but I imagine that if everyone in the community is interested in the success of the school, it can happen. It starts with a principal being willing to allow others into the school. I guess not just willing, but actually inviting. The principal of the school would hold many community events in the school to help people feel like they can come to the school. The principal would also get rid of those stupid "Every person entering this building must check in at the principal's office" signs. I think this principal would also have to live in the school's boundaries (there might even be a house next door to the school where the principal lives).

In classrooms there would be a lot of parent involvement. Parents would be there volunteering to help Monday through Thursday, with some coming in on Fridays. I have 165 students. If one parent of each student came in once, that would take care of the whole year. In these classrooms with parent involvement, there would be a lot of hands-on activities, learning centers (stations), places of individual or group work, as well as a "lecture" place if that is needed as well.

To help parents (and teachers) there would be a day-care type class that teachers could bring their children to. It would be run by a couple teachers and a bunch of students. It would be free to those who left their kids there while they helped in classrooms. This incentive could help young, energetic parents come in to assist students and teachers.

At the end of the day, a part of the school would be blocked off. Tutoring would be available after school almost every day. Computer labs would be opened, and extra-curricular activities would be available for students who need a place to be after school. It will keep them safer than being home alone or on the street causing problems.

Several nights each month, businesses and community and religious groups will use the building for meetings, training, learning, growing, sports, and anything else they need.

Here are the reasons why we should do these things:
  • People will enjoy sending their kids to a school that is open and inviting.
  • Parents and business leaders will be willing to donate money, time, energy, effort, and resources to the school if they are actively involved in it.
  • An open inviting school will be safe, not because we make people check in at the office, but because everyone at the school will care about keeping it safe. Friendliness is more effective than mandates to "check anyone without an ID badge" and that will make the difference.
  • Fewer problems with discipline because students aren't going to goof off as much if 1) they know the teacher talks to their mom or dad weekly or 2) their mom, dad, or friend's mom or dad is there in the class with them.
Are there negative aspects of this plan? I am sure there are, but class is about to start so I will leave on a utopian note ;). Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

Have a good life.

Learning is Supposed to be Frustrating

So, my classes have been working on the Campaign Trail Collaboration wiki with a bunch of other schools around the country and world. It has been an interesting learning experience as wikis are still very new to a lot of people. It is interesting to see who excels at it and who does not. Most don't. It is surprisingly difficult for some people, even parents. That is completely understandable, though. It took me a little bit to understand the nuances of a wiki as well. This video from the "CommonCraft Show" helps explain it much better than I can.

Learning is supposed to be frustrating. If it is not frustrating, you probably aren't learning. I like to think of it as a piece of wood being carved into something beautiful. If the wood were still alive, surely it would hurt and be painful. But, the benefit is that it is becoming something great and beautiful. That is how learning should be (notice I didn't say education!). I am sure that some people are going to get upset and say that learning should be fun/enjoyable/safe/whatever other positive thing you want to contend it should be. Joseph Smith said:
I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else...all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 304).
You can still enjoy learning even if it is frustrating.

I had a parent who actually emailed me with some valuable reflection about her experiences working on it with her son (and husband). I include it here with her permission:
Hi Mr Jones,

Just wanted to give you some feedback on the Super Tuesday activity M participated in. It absolutely got him involved in tracking the candidates and was valuable for the opportunity to work with others as he added to the state info as it developed. We did not see any info entered from other students on his state. Could it be because we were not looking in the right place? It has the potential to be a great collaborative activity working with others to track the election process. That is the whole point for this, to be a collaborative effort. It helps people work together and learn together.

We were a little disappointed this morning to find the updated info that he had entered at 9:30 pm last night was gone this morning. We did not print out a page from that time, but he did print one out this am to turn in to prove he was filling in the info on [his state's] primaries. Here they learned on their own how to adapt to a new medium; they didn't know what the protocol was, but were able to figure it out on their own.

This was the first time he ( and his father and I ) had ever used the wiki page. Not surprising, but now they have used a wiki, and the next time their child has to do something with technology, this experience will help define their approach to a new one later in M's career. We spent a lot of time figuring out what to do and how to get to the appropriate areas, so maybe in the future a bit more detailed instructions would be helpful. I am assuming she means better instructions than "Here is the wiki page. Do it." ;) I didn't give very good instructions, that is for sure.

It was a great experience for M in using technology and working with the computer. He was copying and pasting results repeatedly to update the info, which really made him get comfortable with going between windows, etc. This is a great skill for him to learn. He will be able to use this later, I am sure.

We'll be interested to see if M did this assignment as expected. It was a good learning experience, and a little frustrating too. Thanks for your help. Since this is my first time teaching, I don't even know how good of a job I did teaching it. How can I give someone a bad grade for making a concerted and valiant effort when the directions were so poor to begin with?


I did spend some time with the students teaching them what a wiki is and how it works, but I didn't teach them well enough. We were able to get on the computers and edit some wiki pages, but they still didn't get it. Showing the video posted above really helped them out. That was a very positive thing to do. I should have done it earlier.

So, what have I learned?
1. I need to give clear concise directions that are easily understandable.
2. It is okay if learning is frustrating.
3. If you are fair and equitable and try new things, most parents will support you.