Saturday, October 11, 2014

Start of a New Year- Cheating, Plagiarism, and Collusion - Oh My!

I promised myself that when this year started, I would blog every week. And then, I turned around and it is October! I could just admit defeat, but instead I am just being honest and blogging now.

I wanted to share an honest glance into my classroom to see the successes and failures - both of which happen and the later more frequently than the former. But failures are ok.

I tell my students on their first day that I expect them to fail in my class. Usually they freak out and I explain the difference between the importance of the preposition "in" and not the whole class. We have conditioned kids to play the game of school so well that they equate failure with failing the class - which is really worrisome for me as an educator.

If we are supposed to be preparing our students for life after high school, then they need to learn how to deal with failure because - NEWS FLASH- it will happen. And they need to learn how to deal with it and see is as a learning experience and not a judgement on their life in general. Learning how to deal with setbacks is such a crucial skill that will help them succeed long after they forget how to diagram a sentence.

What does that look like in my class? Here is an example of something that happened. While grading their summer assignment, it became apparent to me that over 80% of them had participated in some short of cheating/plagiarsm. I was floored and hurt. I could have just decided to give them all zeros and get a stern talking to from myself, but instead I chose another path. I invited the principal and the librarian and my DP coordinator into my room and we all had a heart to heart conversation about the consequences of their actions when they get to college. But that was only the first part of my plan, the second part was much harder. I gave them 48 hours to come forward and do two things: 1. admit what they had done and take responsibility and 2. come up with their own punishment for us to discuss.

This may seem crazy but I wanted to teach the kids how to advocate for themselves when they make a mistake. They need to learn how to talk with someone and own up to a mistake and then how to be proactive and learn from it. It was the most humbling experience that I have ever been a part of and I am so proud of them for what they did- not the cheating but being a responsible young adult. And for that, I am thankful.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Reaction to Amendment 66

While I know that tax hikes in hard economic times are not the popular thing, I was shocked to read the following reaction from the anit-66 people from the Denver Post:

"Passing Amendment 66 would have gravely wounded the state's economy and business climate, while rewarding a reform-resistant education system with an un-earned windfall."

It stopped my breath for a minute- reform-resistant? We are not reform-resistant, we don't have the ability to change when we don't have the resources. How can you expect people to grow if you don't give them what they need - tools, training, and other resources. And not all of us are reform-resistant. In fact, if  you read (which by the way you can thank a teacher for that) up on educational reform, you will find that the Flipped classroom started here in Colorado and is still going strong with some of us. However, we have had to buy our own equipment while not getting a raise for over 4 years.

Every time I think that somehow someone out there will understand what needs to happen in education, I am shut down by ignorance and people who only look for the bad instead of taking the time to find the good.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Doing more with less

At the local YMCA, there was a group of people lobbying hard against a MLO (Mill Levy Override). In this upcoming election, I am sure that this community is not alone. The majority of MLO monies usually go to public services (such as firemen and policemen) and to education. As I was leaving, I overheard this conversation:

Man: Well they say that the schools need more money.
Woman: They have plenty, they need to learn to make due with less. We are all having to do that at home so why not at school.

It took everything that I had not to jump in that conversation.

Here are some thing that need to be heard:

  • Over the decade from 2001–02 to 2011–12, in constant dollars, average salaries for public  school teachers changed -2.8 percent with Colorado the lowest (-5.5%) 

  • My state is 29th in spending money on education 
So while I am personally getting less and receiving less from my school district, I am expected to perform more. I am expected to raise the bar of excellence and prepare students for jobs and experiences outside the classroom yet we don't have daily access to computers. Every year it is a fight to get any monies for classroom supplies such as staples, post it notes, three whole punches, etc.

So while I am getting paid less, I am expected to do more and now my job is dependent on my student's performance on tests that they themselves are not held accountable for.

Is raising taxes a popular idea right now? No - and I get that. However, if we want more from our students and we want them to achieve more, then we have to give them more.

Friday, September 27, 2013


I just finished hosting a webinar on how to use flipped learning to meet the needs of the common core. We had over 150 live participants and around 400 people signed up to access the video later. It was awesome to have that kind of audience of educators.

While preparing for the call, I found out that only about 5% of US Educators have heard of the concept of flipped learning or flipped classroom. That shocked me. Because all of the teachers that I know and that are in my circle of friends know about this. Which brings me to the point of this blog- how many times do we not share because we think of the 95% instead of the 5%? How powerful is the  mob mentality?

What I mean by that is some of us are so accustomed to doing something amazing in our classrooms - so amazing that we no longer see how amazing it is. And since the people we work with also see it, then we assume that they know all about it and we fail to educate them on it. Whether it is flipped learning, or how to introduce grammar, or how to set up a lab for success, these little tips and tricks make our lives easier and make our students more engaged so why aren't we screaming them from the rooftops?

I think the reason is two fold:

1. Educators tend to be very humble. Yes there are the exceptions, but for the most part, I have found that they just see the amazing stuff as part of their job. They assume that this is what all good teachers do. But we have to accept that NOT ALL TEACHERS ARE GOOD TEACHERS. And that bothers us to the core. We tend to feel like a united front against all of the attackers that are out there. But why do we think this way when we know what not all government officials have the public's best interest in mind all of the time? Or that not all weather forecasts are accurate 100% of the time? We have to learn to take pride in what we do and then be willing to open ourselves up and invite the world in.

2. Educators, just like other humans, fall prey to the mob mentality. What I mean by that is we tend to assume that if people know us then they know what we do; meaning all the cool stuff that is going on in the classroom. If no one else is sharing their tips and tricks and bragging about their success, then why should we? We assume that because people know us that they understand us and that is an incorrect assumption. If no one is being brave in your building and talking about something, then chances are you won't either. So whatever the mob is doing, we tend to follow along.

We need to change both of these things and invite people in - which is scary. It opens us up to criticism and close examination of what we are doing in the classroom. And some people don't want to do that - and I get it. With pay for performance and merit based pay and all of the host of other bills and regulations that are coming out, it seems that the culture is becoming more guarded. If we share what we do and someone does it better, they get paid more and possibly get your job. But we have to believe in ourselves more that that. We have to believe in what we do and the choices that we make to help our students succeed. We have to take chances and share our ideas with our coworkers and help clear up misconceptions about ideas such as the flipped classroom/learning concept.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Going Dark- the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I love this term...going dark. It means that some serious stuff is about to go down and people need time to focus on that. I am as guilty of this as anyone else.

Flipping my classroom does not mean that my life is easier, in fact I would argue that it is much harder. I have to be "on" every minute. I can't switch my brain off and drone on with lectures, I get to walk around the classroom and create relationships with my students.

It takes a lot of mental and physical energy to do this, which is why I have been living in the dark. For years, I have been successfully flipping my classes and having amazing success and keeping it all to myself. Not because I am ashamed or afraid, but because I thought that no one would want to hear what I have to say. So starting this school year, my goal is to blog at least once a week about what is going on in my classroom - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Background: I am teaching four classes this year - one AP Literature ( a new prep for me - never taught, never trained), DP Senior English, Film as Literature, and Theory of Knowledge.

Plan: In the first few weeks to evaluate where my students are in reading and writing and set goals for them and an action plan to help them improve through my teaching.

Update: I have finished collecting the reading/writing samples and are evaluating the data. I am going to share data with the students today. I have created them score tracking sheets so that they can track their performance on various reading and writing tasks. They are going to record not only the score, but a focused improvement area as a type of metacognitive step.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I'm teaching what?

Gotta love August! I just got a call from my Assistant Principal and guess what - my schedule changed. Now I am teaching both DP (Diploma Years) senior, but AP Lit Seniors as well!

So as my head is spinning, I am so thankful that I have flipped my classroom. There are so many things that I will need to offload for my students in order to have the time in the classroom to practice writing (both timed and not) as well as testing. I am thinking about flipping all literary terms and grouping them so that we apply each to a certain part of the syllabus. I don't know what that will look like, but I am spitballing here. I have to go back to the basic question - what is the best use of my class time for my students?

I am so glad that I use that question to ground me for every class that I teach. I feel that if I did not do that, I would be huddled in a corner crying about being given an upper level class that  I have NEVER taught or been trained in. This one questions allows me to look at ANY class and get a handle on how to help my student's succeed.

That does not mean that I will not be stressed - not in the least. But at least I can create meaningful content both in and out of the classroom with some experience.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Sadness of Leftover Mac-n-Cheese and Writing

I know that this is a strange post title, but I have found it to be oh so true. I have loved mac-n-cheese since my childhood, but if you don't eat it all on the first go around, then reheating it does not bring back the original goodness.

I bring this up because I was thinking about the writing process. Students think that their papers are like mac-n-cheese. Sit down, make it and then you are done with it. But that is SOOO wrong.

This past year, I implemented a 10 step writing process for all of my students major papers (see below)

This is what I found:
1. Making the reflection piece worth as much as the actual writing piece made a huge difference in quality
2. The biggest impact from the student's perspective was having to read their papers out loud and then listen to it and edit their paper.
3. While this is very technology heavy, it can be done in other ways. This is where the flipped classroom helps me in giving me more time to focus on the best use of class time and homework load.

Let me know what you think about this and if you have a secret for reheating mac-n-cheese let me know!