Thursday, December 30, 2004

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Rollercoaster Week

The students have been caught up in “election fever” this week. Even though most of the students are not American, we are close enough to the States that the election is a major topic of interest. We receive American TV also, so they have been watching CNN and other news programs from New York, Boston and Tennessee. The seniors held a mock debate where they represented the various platforms, but didn’t name the candidates directly. In our mock election, Nader’s platform won. Now, was it because of the student’s charisma or the actual issues? Well, does it matter, aren’t most elections a bit of a popularity contest?

Monday was a difficult day for me. It just seemed like nothing was working right – the computers, the printer, the students. I was very upset and frustrated. I wrote to the MiddleWeb list and very quickly received many encouraging thoughts and advice. This relates to my entry on isolation – simple things become overwhelming when there isn’t a place to vent and receive support. I felt so much better knowing that I was not alone in my feelings.

Things are a little more on track. I’m working on a neat project with the 8th grade World Cultures. After studying the general idea of culture, plus the five themes of geography, I have asked them to create a new culture. In Lithuania, the 4/5 teacher did a similar project. I drew a fictional world with landforms and split it up into countries. The students needed to transfer their country to a larger scale and fill in the details. Then I handed out general guidelines on what makes climate happen and where natural resources can be found. The students needed to apply that information to their country. Tomorrow they will begin designing an early culture for their country. I’ve talked to the English and Art teachers in order to extend the project. In English, they will be writing a myth for their country, and in Art, they will create a piece of art. Once the early culture has been created, the students will come back to “modern” times and decide how the early culture influences the modern culture in housing, fashion, government etc… I’m excited to see the end results of this project.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Halloween Maddness

Today is the Halloween celebration at school. The various student councils have planned activities for Halloween. First, the students were asked to dress in black and orange. This afternoon the middle and high school students will be allowed to change into costumes. Then the middle schoolers will watch a movie – something Goosebumps. Then a costume contest and finally food. The high schoolers have planned many traditional games – bobbing for apples, pass the orange etc. The elementary students are watching a production made by grade 4/5.

I find this very interesting. In Lithuania, holidays were a touchy subject. Many people objected to Halloween, considering it a Satanic holiday, therefore it was changed to Masquerade Day. Christmas became “Winter Holiday.” There was tension between the parents and teachers about how to celebrate holidays. As international teachers, many believed that the school needed to be more sensitive to our international population. Not all of our students were white-Christian. And even if they were, celebrating Christian holidays to the exclusion of others did not support our mission statement that stated “The school enthusiastically encourages the study and understanding of different cultures so that AISV students will develop into constructive world citizens.”

Well, I jumped on the bandwagon and right now my 6th and 7th grade language arts students are completing a web sampler on Halloween. They read a page about the origins and celebrations of Halloween around the world, then completed a MadLibs. Plus I included other games.

Thursday, October 21, 2004


Isolation is one of the hardest aspects to deal with when teaching in a small school. Everyone is always occupied with teaching or supervising, and I don’t have a like-minded, subject area colleague to talk with. In the past, I’ve used Connected University to stay connected with enthusiastic teachers. I’ve enjoyed all the classes I’ve taken with it. Besides learning something new, the Discussion Board allowed me to interact daily with other teachers. Unfortunately, it does cost – about 400USD, and takes a bit of Internet time, which is very short for me lately. However, I have enrolled in the PBS TeacherLine program , which is self-paced. I worked on it over the week of vacation, but haven’t looked at it since. I need to get busy with that.

This week is Drug Awareness week on the island. On Monday grades 6-12 went to see a motivational speaker. He was born with no legs or arms, but did not allow people to “handicap” him – tell him that he couldn’t do something. He was interesting, funny, and thought provoking, yet didn’t speak much about drugs, other than, “Don’t do them.” In the afternoon, the students visited a volunteer drug rehab center. Some of the recovering addicts spoke with the students. The students had a lot of questions, mostly “Is it true…” or “I heard that . . .” types of questions.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Opportunity verses Difficulty

In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity. – Albert Einstein

Ah, vacation. A week to catch my breath, see family, and shop. Also a good time to reflect on my eight weeks in Aruba and the “opportunities” that have presented themselves to me.

First, I am proud to say that I am now a certified diver. We took a class with the Diver Club, which just started at school. My husband and I attended classes and water sessions with six of the high school students. As the PADI book says, “Diving opens a whole new world.” It means confronting fears, relaxing in a foreign environment, and really observing the world. We spent two Saturdays under water, mostly testing skills, but also with some time to visit sites. It is truly beautiful and amazing to see the variety of life and color. I look forward to diving on our own now and discovering more.

This year I’m teaching several classes that I have never taught before – drama, US history, and world cultures. Plus, I’m teaching a science class, which I haven’t done in three years. This has presented many “opportunities” to stretch and challenge my teaching capabilities.

The drama lessons are almost second nature to me though; I’ve always been a “dramatic” person. These students have also taken to it like ducks to water. I’ve introduces several Comedy Sportz-like games and they have willingly done them. They have produced two Readers Theater productions and are now working on storytelling. It is best to have an audience, so I arrange time with the Lower School classes. It will be neat to watch the interaction between the 7th graders and the primary students.

Teaching science, right now, it difficult. I would like to have more hands-on work, but I am lacking in time and equipment. Unlike English, I can’t just whip up lessons in moments, I have to do a lot of prep ahead of time to get the materials and equipment, and in this school, that is a time consuming task. There are books, materials and equipment all over the school and not always in the logical places. I miss the science kits we had in Lithuania – the tote included everything needed for the entire unit: student handouts, teacher background and lesson plans, quizzes and tests, plus the information and materials for every lab experience. All packaged together. As long as the teacher reordered each year, the units were easy to use. They came from Carolina Science

As for the social studies classes, well, I’m not where I’d like to be. I am relying on too many “traditional” forms of teaching – lecture, textbook reading and quiz, and regurgitation. I asked the director for permission to buy Teacher’s Curriculum Institute’s World Cultures package. I heard about it form my MiddleWeb listserv. Many teachers raved about how the kids are actively involved in the learning and the quality of the materials. After browsing briefly through the newly arrived package, I too am impressed. But, I have to retrain my 8th graders and myself to be more active, reflective, and cooperative in the class. I am hoping to also learn many techniques I can use with the US History class. Right now, they are completing full-body portraits of people of the American Revolution. It is more regurgitation then I would like, but I am teaching the skills of research, note-taking, and bibliography.

My new mantra, “I can’t do everything at once.” Or “Baby steps, baby steps.” I look at all the things that I thing the students should know and be able to do and become frantic with what I need to teach. I need to remember that it took four years in Lithuania to get all these things done.

I’ve also signed up for “PBS Teacherline” - online professional development for teachers. Unfortunately, we still don’t have Internet at home, so I will have to try to make time at school to do the course work.

Plus, we have signed up for Papiamento lessons, but that took a back burner with the dive course. Once we return, hopefully we can focus more on it. It is a cool language.
Papiamento Words and Phrases You Can Use
Amaro's Project Papiamentu

I really thought that moving to Aruba would mean a slower pace of life. But so far, that hasn’t happened. I feel like I constantly have to do something.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

New Year, New School, New Country

Wow, what a transition - Eastern Europe to the Caribbean. I'm bombarded with so many new things that it is difficult to sort them out. A new house, new puppy, new schedule, new students, new lifestyle, new climate, new car... and the list goes on. It is hard to concentrate on any one thing for too long - I am pulled in so many directions and I feel like I should be doing everything at once.

So, new schedule - 2 English, 2 History, 1 Science, and 1 Drama. I am now teaching on an 85 minutes block A/B Day for Mon- Thurs, and all classes for 45 minutes on Friday. With a week in of school, I found the Friday schedule easier. Though the kids commented that it was overwhelming to have all classes. On the other hand, a few kids commented that 85 minutes with some teachers is a deadly thing. I must endeavor to plan 15-20 minute chunks of lessons, and get students moving within the class. With drama, we're moving too much. The kids are over stimulated and begin to get silly. In history, I've planned longer projects to do with in the hour, and the kids get bored with doing the same thing.

It is strange having all new kids. For the last few years, I've been with the same group of students as they move up. The first day of school was easy - I knew all their names, histories, quirks etc. I knew who to hug and who to give space. Now I feel unsure. I have a teacher persona, which I have yet to gauge if it matches this new situation. I feel like the kids are floating in and out of my classroom, and I don't have names to faces yet. But, I have given them an interest inventory to complete and the Million Words or Less assignment for their parents. I hope this will enable me to get a better handle on them.

The materials here leave something to be desired. The Literature series is from 1997. It has all the worksheet with it, but doesn't really focus on the process of reading. The history books are loaded with facts, people and dates, but I will have to try and make it "real". It is also frustrating not knowing where to go to find the resources. I used have this, that or the other thing, and knew exactly where to look for it. Now I'm raiding other teacher's classrooms (with their permission) to find the basics. Again, I feel pulled in several directions.

The kids are lovely. There are curious, friendly, and just want to be heard. It is comforting to see that teenagers all over the world really are alike, more then they would care to admit. I'm still trying to get a sense of the needs and levels of my students. So far, the staff has been quite nice and accommodating too. No one has turned me down when I've asked for help or supplies.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004


Teachers' Domain Professional Development
"Designed to broaden your understanding of subject content and teaching methodologies, Teachers' Domain Professional Development courses are organized around a research-based, inquiry learning model and feature Teachers' Domain multimedia resources --streaming video and interactive experiences from public television, vivid graphics, and readings."

Online Crossword Puzzle Maker

Friday, July 16, 2004

Ancient Egypt

My brother and I attended the Milwaukee Public Museum's exhibit on "The Quest for Immortality."  This exhibit was originally put together by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC with major pieces coming from The Egyptian Museum in Cairo.  The official explanation, from the National Gallery of Art describes it like this
"From the earliest times, Egyptians denied the physical impermanence of life. They formulated a remarkably complex set of religious beliefs and funneled vast material resources into the quest for immortality. This exhibition focuses on the understanding of the afterlife among Egyptians some 3,000 years ago, in the period of the New Kingdom (1550-1069 BC) through the Late Period (664-332 BC). The New Kingdom marked the beginning of an era of great wealth, power, and stability for Egypt, and was accompanied by a burst of cultural activity, much of which was devoted to the quest for eternal life.
      The exhibition is divided into six sections: Journey to the Afterworld, The New Kingdom, The Royal Tomb, Tombs of Nobles, The Realm of the Gods, and The Tomb of Thutmose III." - NGA:The Quest for Immortality

The tour included an audio explanation with Jeremy Irons.  Overall, it was a basic introduction to the funerary myths of the ancient Egyptians, though not created for the viewing pleasure of children.  Most of the items were placed on single pedestal, without context.
One nifty item that I bought was Hieroglyphics for Travelers  by Ronald Fellows and Thomas Mudloff.  I always wanted to be able to follow the glyphs, now maybe I'll be able to read a few names.  Wish I had found this book before we visited Egypt, it would have made the temple visits more interesting.
But, since I was reminiscing about what activities I've used with students about Ancient Egypt, I was reminded of three great websites by the British Museum.  These sites are targeted for Upper Elem. to Middle School kids and are quite fun.  The sites reveal content information in a interesting and graphic way. (You need ShockWave to run the games/stories.)
Ancient Mesopotamia
ancient India
Ancient Egypt 

MiddleWeb and Differentiating Instruction

I've been involved in the MiddleWeb listserv for the last few months. then click on "Join Our Discussion." It is a wonderful group of educators who have a passion for middle school teaching.  Just recently someone on the list asked about the influence of the list on people.  I posted this, "I've found this listserv to be an important grounding point to my day.  Sometimes I think I'm the only one feeling something, or that my students are the only ones acting a certain way, or I'm the only one interested in learning and expanding my professional knowledge.  Then I read the latest postings and find kindred spirits and I don't feel so alone.  I've recounted listserv conversations as if they were face-to-face conversations and even refer to the authors as if I really know them.  (Which is an interesting issue to explore.  As digital immigrants, we, adult people, differentiate between our "real" friends and our digital friends.  How many of kids make that distinction?) . . . I really appreciate that fact that in most cases, posts are responded to within 24 hours.  It's like having your own personal think-tank."
In June, about 40 members of the list met for the first time for a "Walk the Talk" Conference which sounded like it was amazing.  From that discussion, there had been a lot of talk about differentiated instruction(DI) .  Several years ago, I took an online class, through ASCD about DI.  I found the class interesting,  but the lack of interaction with other people made it difficult to internalize the information.  I've puttered around with this idea for the last few years.  Hopefully, with DI being a current topic on the list, I may think a little harder about it.
One of the list members recommended this link: Enhanced Learning .   ASCD also provides an overview of the topic.
The basic gist is to adapt the content, process or product that a student will learn from, with and through to match that student's abilities, interests and learning styles.  Sounds like a pretty big task, which is why most DI instructors suggest starting with a unit, and building resources year by year.
As for me, I think the area that I adapt most frequently is the content.  I believe in given students choice when selecting novels.  I tend to try to teach by theme to allow for different reading abilities.  When a particular novel needs to be taught, I tend to allow students choice in the end-of-unit project.  Although I should look harder at the complexity of the tasks I suggest.  Often the choices I give are more based on multiple intelligence preferences, rather than the complexity of the task.  I also need to work harder in the area of process.  I tend to have all students complete the same types of activities - using the same graphic organizers or notetaking style.  In addition, I should be more aware of using pre-assessments.  I haven't used formal pre-assessment, mostly because my classes have been quite small, and I know my students well.  But, it wouldn't hurt to have that information on paper, not just a gut feeling.
I do wonder about the perception of "fairness."  If students are completing different tasks, how can I create an environment where students don't compete and compare?  I can hear my former 9th graders whining, "But I worked for hours on this assignment, and he/she didn't have any homework."   When students are new to the school, and obviously ESL, most other students give them plenty of slack.  However, once real grades are issued, what does an A mean then?  If an advanced student completes all higher-level thinking assignments perfectly, and a student completing work on the lower level of Bloom's taxonomy completes his/her work perfectly, do they both receive an A?  In the past,  I created menus of assignments and the students could choose the grade they were working for.  The lower level skills would earn a C and the higher-level thinking would earn an A.  But, that is a lot of assignments to create and grade.
I recently bought Diane Heacox's Differentiated Instruction in the Regular Classroom. I hope I will get some practical answers to my ponderings.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004


I finished reading Finding Your Leadership Style, which is available through ASCD, plus a study guide. I found it interesting. After taking the survey, I found that my leadership style is strongly Dynamic Supportive. Which means, "Charismatic, warmhearted, sincere, reliable, humorous, compassionate,strong yet gentle all these words can describe Dynamic Supportives.

This quality type is typified in therapists, healers, clergy, guidance counselors, teachers, and communicators. They are independent,intuitive, and good at bringing people together... They make the best friends because they listen well and offer assistance, even at great cost or trouble to themselves. They do so because they are driven to help others.

It's what gives them the most satisfaction. And although they are willing to help almost anyone, they are no fools. Their  dynamic  quality makes them strong-willed, confident, and determined. They are charismatic, but they do not have the need to lead or control others. They can take charge of a situation but would rather not do so. Still, people
are drawn to them; they have a presence." page 39. That sounds like me.

Actualization Leadership Role - Suggestions
1. Prioritize commitments. Tend to take on to much.
2. Set time aside for yourself.
3. Consider assuming small to mid-size leadership positions.
4. Serve as a buffer to the bureaucracy.

A second part of the book discussed leadership virtues. The author believes that all leaders embody 7 typical virtues - courage, impartiality, empathy, good judgment, enthusiasm, humility and imagination. My survey suggests that my strong virtues are courage, impartiality and humility. That does seem to ring as true. I don't think I'm humble.

The author also suggested that some of the best work done within school districts is done when leaders' qualities are matched with the job that needs to be done, and, being able to create leadership teams which are balanced with different types of leaders. That seems to make sense.

Check out - Leading Everyday: 124 Actions for Effective Leadership by Kaser, Mundry and Stiles

Moving from Technology

When I started this blog, I thought I would just focus on what I learned and applied from NECC. I should have known better, my mind doesn't stay focused on just one topic. It's like walking into a bookstore - I always see something I want to learn more about and I get distracted in a new section. Then, I forget why I went to the bookstore in the first place.

Well, my recent distraction is leadership. I've been told that I may be leading the middle school next year. I'm not exactly sure what that means - is it taking care of paperwork, contacting parents, or nitty-gritty leading - creating a vision and navigating it? I've had a short meeting with the director and asked what his plans are. Unfortunately, he has bigger priorities, and didn't have much of an answer for me. So, I will probably over-prepare.

One resource I stumbled upon does relate to technology - I was searching the electronic catalog at my former university and kept coming up with "Electronic Book" titles. Since I am no longer a student, I couldn't access it. But, I found out that my local public library subscribes to it. Therefore, I have logged into NetLibrary and began reading "Finding your Leadership Style." No great insights yet.

I've also been reading Gardening in the Minefield A Survival Guide for School Administrators by Laurel Schmidt. She was a teacher who began a principal. She talks about a principal she followed around from school to school. I think she would have been one of those too. I like her metaphor of the job being a minefield, yet you can garden within it - as long as you plant the seeds. I found the chapter "Principal Dearest" especially funny. It listed personality types that are found often in teachers, which drains away time and energy from the principal. It also suggested pro-active ways of dealing with the personality type. As I read through the descriptions, I realized that many of my former colleagues where considered a "drainer". I was considering sending a copy of the book to my former head of school to help him support the teachers.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Position Statement: Learning and Teaching with Technology

Technology is profoundly changing the world, but the impact on education has been slow. In real life, students are connected 24/7 through email, chat rooms and cell phones, yet in the classroom students and teachers are still isolated. Modern students are constantly multi-tasking as they chat with a friend in a chat room, text message another on the cell phone, do research on the internet while listening to music or watching TV. Yet, again, in the classroom, teachers expect students to do one task at a time. Technology has changed the way students think and perceive the world and education needs to be at the vanguard of this movement.

Technology has the potential to dramatically change the way students learn and teachers teach. Communication is faster and easier through email and can reach a broader audience through satellite feeds or conference calls. Productivity can be increased through word processing programs, grading programs, and presentation programs like PowerPoint. Access to information has increased through the internet, DVDs, CD-ROMs and on-line libraries and museums. Individual learning needs can be address through animated computer programs, video and audio versions of textbooks or novels, self-paced on-line courses, and personal adaptive devices.

These factors should lead to a change in the way students are educated and teachers instruct. Students can collaborate on projects, not only with students in their classroom, but with classrooms around the world. Parents and teachers can increase their communication through email updates, on-line classroom web pages, and voice mail. Student projects don’t have to be linear presentations with poster board or clay. Instead, students can create electronic simulations, web pages, and HyperStack or PowerPoint presentations with audio and animation. Teachers also are not limited to lecturing with an overhead, but can use the same types of programs to deliver instruction. The knowledge of the world is available on a desktop computer, which means teachers and students need to know how to access and evaluate it. At the same time, the ease of collecting information triggers the need to transform the type of coursework given to encourage the application, adaptation, evaluation and synthesis of information instead of just reproduction.

Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.” - King Whitney Jr, President, Personnel Laboratory Inc.

Technology has the potential to dramatically change the way students learn and teachers teach, but it requires vision and support to create the inspiration to take on the challenge. Too often school districts throw money at the hardware part of technology without considering the needs of the user – the teachers and students. This type of thinking produces over-sized typewriters! For a school to effectively teach with technology, there needs to be a clear sense of vision and achievable goals with the support of hardware, software, training, in-service, support personnel, and time.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Other Sites

A little more surfing today, and a little more information to remember.

Blogs and Wikis as WebQuest Tasks - Bernie Dodge's Presentation at NECC

Walk the Talk - Middle Web Meeting

After watching Bernie Dodge's presentation, I had a few ideas of what to do with a blog. One use that I would like to try is a class blog. I could ask a student - or the class as a whole - to compose a review of the day and post it. It would be a good review, but also parents could read it, and also include sites.

The Wiki - which is a database of information, could be used to create a Kid's guide to Aruba. Though, since I'm not teaching English much this next year, that would be more difficult to do.

Bernie had some other ideas to tie the Wiki or Blog to a Webquest - as a diary, travel account, or historical story.

Mrs. D. has an interesting use of the blog. She posts a question or picture for students to respond to and they comment.

Another blog hosting site

Website saving - Furl It

Read Bernie Dodge's Tapped In session after NECC. Looked over Tapped In - could be an interesting site.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Days without thinking about NECC

I made a commitment last Wednesday to blog; I want to stick with it. I spent time tonight reviewing the NECC site to look up the handouts from presentations I went too - and presentations I wish I had gone to. I'm finding that few people are posting handouts, rather there is a link to a website. Here are the sites I want to look up in the near future and review:
Tech Savvy Classroom

Grant Writing

Thornburg Center

George Lucas Foundation – Edutopia

Alan November

Kathy Schrock

PBS Teacherline

Anne Davis – Weblogs

Partnership for 21st Century Skills

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Getting Started

So many times when I go to a workshop, the information sounds so great, the ideas so profound, but a week later, the change hasn't happened. I am endeavoring to make the change happen this year. I want to blog! So here it is.

Last year at NECC in Seattle there were a ton of people with blogging t-shirts. I wanted to know more about it, so I started reading up on the Internet. As the proverb goes, getting information off of the internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant! I quickly got overwhelmed and couldn't function with it all. Though I did learn something - the difference between threaded discussion and blogs. More later - they are trying to pack up.