Monday, December 31, 2012

What Are You Reading?

“It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. It is a chance for book lovers to share their reading accomplishments as well as what is on the proverbial nightstand. She even does a giveaway. Subsequently Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts added an opportunity for those reading kidlit to join the fun. Since I read both I will post to both. Check them out, join the conversations, and discover more great books.

Must haves for my classroom library are marked with *.

The Mystery of the Fool and The Vanisher by David & Ruth Elwand

*Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
This was the first of her books I read and I could not put it down. I now can’t keep any of them in my room as the kids are lined up to read them, girls and boys alike. She writes these historical fiction books with a balance of action, history, and relationships – something for everyone.

Bunnicula by Deborah & James Howe
Somehow I had managed to go all these years without reading this book. Now I have, and will check the color of my vegetables if we ever have a bunny in the house.

*Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
See Fever 1793 above.

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan

Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog by Garth Stein
I expected a heartwarming look at life through a dog’s eyes. I was not ready for the intensity of life experiences the human characters were to experience. Some people can be so evil!

Infinity Ring Book One: Mutiny in Time by James Dashner
I think the adventure of these books will draw kids in and could help to reinforce their understanding of history (or totally confuse them – one or the other!)

*Sabriel by Garth Nix
I had a student in mind as I was reading this and he loved it, even with a female protagonist. Great fantasy / adventure for strong readers. Now I need to see if I can get the rest of the trilogy through my library for my Kindle.

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

Good Girls by Laura Ruby
Our librarian recommended this one. Not one either of use would keep on our shelves, but perhaps for the right student. Excellent reminder that choices you make can come back to haunt you.

Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard
I was not impressed and won’t read the rest of the series, but at least I have an idea what they are about.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Big Time

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 My time with CoETaIL has lead to this, Course 5. While I have another month to ponder what I will do for my final project, my initial considerations all get me hung up at the idea of it having to reach the "Redefinition" level of technology.

I have been looking at how to change what and how I teach, in order to utilize technology, for the past year and a half. I keep lists of ideas, jotting things down as I think of them. Perhaps I have done something one way and in the midst of it thought of another option. Maybe I was inspired by a blog post I read or someone's tweet. It may be that a particular lesson is not engaging my students and I want to think about ways to hook them. Whatever the reason may be, I add my thoughts to my list.

Now that I need to start to narrow down what I will focus on for Course 5 I am pouring over my list. I feel like every 'great' idea I have down is actually doing something old in a new way. (I wrote about this idea here.) Good thing there is still loads of time for fine tuning!

My two most compelling ideas are:

"How To" Books
This would be another step in our Informational Text unit. Right now students are in the middle of writing an Informational Text picture book that we will share with the appropriate elementary grade level. Even though they are using technology to research, and are learning about Creative Commons in order to determine if they want to create the own or legally use someone else's illustration, the book will ultimately be a printed book for the shelves of the elementary school.
This addition would be to write a "How To" 'book'. They could choose any digital platform they they think would be the best tool to deliver their content.

Reflection of Literary Analysis
My final unit will be about Literary Analysis. What if I added a digital processing/reflection piece? They would be able to choose the tool(s) they thought best showed their process and thinking along the way. I like that it would not be just their reflection at the end, but a journey with them through the unit. This digital piece could then be shared with their parents during their student-led conference.

So, I will proceed with caution. It is not just me on this journey, but the 86 students in sixth grade as well. I am sure it will be an exciting ride!

Friday, December 14, 2012


Education will continue to change because of technology. I have no idea where, or how, I will be teaching 5, 10, or 15 years from now. I do know that as I look back over the years that I was in school the standards of those days have been completely replaced.

Every movie I saw was on one of these…

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 I learned how to type, and wrote many papers, on one of these…

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And even when I started teaching this was the best tech tool I had available for the classroom…

Some rights reserved by DennisSylvesterHurd

None of those tech tools exist in my current middle school. Every day I use a data projector, document camera, laptop, and iPad. With Apple TV my students can teach each other by taking over with their iPad. The classroom looks very different today than when I was their age.

With a vastly different landscape in the classroom and students no longer needing me to access information the 'how' we teach must change as well. I must teach students how to access information. Once they have accessed the information they need to know how to consider the validity of the information before they can evaluate the content. After that students need to be able to analyze and apply the information they have encountered. Finally students need the tools to be able to synthesize all they have learned.

I am no longer teaching students what they need to know, but teaching them how to use tools to be able to learn on their own. Again the how is the key. Students can choose which tools they want to use, rather than every student having to utilize the same tools.

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My job is to guide students. To give them opportunities to practice their learning skills. Chances to try and improve and not always succeed. A safe environment to discuss their thoughts and findings. Access to others to help when they get stuck (and I don't have to be their only option).

I would guess that the teaching environment of tomorrow will be more like today than that of 20 years ago. Student access to information is not going to go away. The teacher will never again be the sole access point. As the tools advance teaching practices will need to morph as well.

A MOOC is one possibility as a technological future for learning. If we change our focus from what is learned to how learning takes place more and more people could choose this type of learning environment.

How has your teaching changed with the shift in access to information and the advancement of technology?

Monday, December 10, 2012


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I currently teach Language Arts, the original flipped classroom. Every single one of us received reverse instruction growing up…
"Read this and we'll discuss it next class."

Many people believe that a 'flipped classroom' must involve videos. This is not true. Reverse instruction is any means of delivering content at home so higher level tasks can happen during class time.

Having the opportunity to familiarize yourself with content, at your own pace, is helpful for all types of learners. Some students will use the opportunity for interacting with the material (once or many times, their choice). Some will appreciate the chance to ponder the deeper meanings and make all kinds of connections. Others will be given time to discover what it is they don't understand about the content. When we deliver content in class, once, there is not the occasion for each student to have the opportunity for these types of explorations.

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As I plan for a lesson I ask myself, "What is the best use of face-to-face time?" This is the driving question. I can then work backwards to determine what my students need to know or have been exposed to prior to being face-to-face in class and therefore be able to make the best use of all of our time.

Reverse instruction can flip your normal routine on its head, but it doesn't have to involve videos. How do you flip?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


The days are flying by. How did it get to be Tuesday again? And, once again, I am sitting at the computer instead of being under the covers and nearly asleep.

Today I have no idea what to write about. I am too tired to even pull out my writing notebook to see what I might have written in there.

Instead, do I focus on the drama of our 3.5 year old? Do I share the frustrations about current situations? Do I simply tell you how tired I am and head to bed?

Those are all options. Bad options.

There is a post I have been meaning to write for about six weeks. Tonight I don't have the mental energy to tell you that story tonight, but a picture is worth a thousand words. Right?

So, in 1,000 words, give or take a few…


On the right - that was our truck.

One day I will tell you the story, but now I am turning off the Christmas tree lights, taking the granola out of the oven, and heading upstairs to bed.