My Students Were in the News!

A news reporter from KNOP News in North Platte came to my classroom a few weeks ago to interview students about their social action projects. We've all been anxiously watching the news each night; the students have been a little disheartened as KNOP hadn't played it....until last night! The class featured in this video was SO excited when I showed them it this afternoon.


The Littlest Birds

I heard about The Be Good Tanyas by reading one of Don Miller's Sunday Morning Music posts and fell in love with this song---it's so catchy!


Late night thoughts

I just finished grading a batch of essays that I've been avoiding for the past four days, and though it's way past my bedtime (12 AM), I suddenly have this rush of energy. So, I'm attempting to write myself to sleep.

My rush of energy might be attributed to the fact that my brain hasn't slowed down at all today. The to-do list is long. Grading, planning, reading, putting together my presentation for the Rural Sites Network Conference in Little Rock, deciding which songs in our musical will be staged and which will be blocked, working out a practice schedule for Quiz Bowl that will fit with all the kids' schedules, responding to the pile of unopened emails in my school inbox.....yikes. I read somewhere that a teacher will make up to 1500 educational decisions in a day. I totally believe this crazy statistic; it's a miracle that my head hasn't exploded, spewing brain matter all over the faces of my 9th graders.

The anticipation for our first home study meeting tomorrow might also be keeping my eyes open. I don't feel nervous for it. I don't really know what to expect, but I'm okay with that. I've had too many expectations be completely shattered within the past four years, so I've learned to develop a more carefree, expectation-free mentality with some things. I'm not really worried about answering any questions our caseworker might ask because we don't have anything to hide (other than all the times I cheated on tests in high school...oops...I let the cat outta the bag!). Dealing with infertility has been much easier lately---sure, I still feel a twinge of pain when I see pregnant bellies and read pregnancy announcements on Facebook, I always will. But, I know that adoption is what God wants for us. I'm humbled to think that God would want to bless us with a child through adoption.

The massive amount of coffee (eight cups) I've consumed today might also be keeping me awake.

Whatever is doing it better go away quickly so I can fall asleep!


Social Action Project Reflections

We survived our project night! The kids had a great turn-out on Thursday night--many people came to see their projects and listen to what they had to say about issues they care about. My face hurt so bad at the end of the night from smiling---I was SO happy for them!

The Keith County News published an excellent article about the kids and their projects, and KNOP News from North Platte came out on Thursday to interview us. Our story will be on Monday night's news...I'll post the link on Monday night.

I loved seeing how invested some of my students were in their projects---and I only had one student not show at the project night. This unit was definitely successful enough to do it again next year.

Here are a few pictures of the kids and captions about their projects:

These guys created a presentation on school shootings. They researched recent school shootings, then they interviewed students, teachers, and administrators to hear their thoughts on the safety of our own building and what we can do to prevent a tragedy like this in our own building. They also passed out an article from the North Platte Telegraph that outlined details of LB5166.

These twin boys scooped all the sidewalks in their neighborhood during our last snowstorm.

Three ladies sold food to raise money for the Perkins County Humane Society. Below is the main doctor from the PCHS with her dog (who was adopted from the shelter!); I was so impressed that the girls thought to invite her and her dog to our project night.

These five ladies put together a cancer walk (it's tonight at our track). I'm amazed at how organized and into this they are. The banner hanging behind them is a mural that one of the girls made to help advertise for the event. They spoke with our AD to organize it all, gathered donations (water, food, and prizes to raffle off), made ribbons for people to wear to remember those affected by cancer, hung fliers around town to advertise for their walk, and created a poster to raise awareness for cancer. These girls are 14 and 15! They've shown more initiative than many adults I know!

These strapping young men did an awareness project on recycling.

Two students put on a car-care clinic at one of the car dealerships teaching students how to change a tire and the oil.

These girls did a presentation on the importance of taking education seriously. For the action portion of their project, they worked with our guidance counselor and created certificates and small bags of candy to hand out to students who improved their GPA from 1st-2nd quarter.

The two students in the middle had a supply drive for Sandhills Crisis Intervention Program. They met with a volunteer coordinator to come up with a plan of attack, and then went door to door gathering supplies.
This isn't the greatest picture, but these two guys went door to door collecting food for the food pantry. They collected over 100 items in just a few hours!

This student had a clothing drive to gather clothes and other supplies for foster families. They have been a foster family for quite awhile, and she noticed that often the kids come to them with not much more than the clothes on their backs. So...she did something about it! She set up drop-boxes at a few locations around town and hung flyers and ended up gathering quite a few donations!

A table of students

These two spent a few class periods baking cookies with the special education students and then sold them at the project night to help them raise funds to buy a new coffee pot for their department.

These lovely ladies made and sold hemp bracelets with purple beads to raise funds and awareness for teen dating violence (February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month).

This student interviewed several people and created an iMovie on the importance of parents spending time with their children.

This student created a presentation to help eliminate negative stereotypes of our local skatepark. It was an incredible presentation!


Social Action Project Update 4

Nate and I just got home from a soup sampler lunch benefit that two of my English 9 students put on to raise money for a neighbor of theirs who has a rare blood disorder. I have to be honest, I didn't expect a good turn-out, so when we pulled up to Martin Bay Church, I was so impressed to see a full parking lot! I wish I would've taken my camera so I could've posted a few photos. The girls had managed to get 13 large pots of soups, sandwiches, bread sticks, and several desserts donated to them for the event--they had more than enough food. When we left they had already raised $700!

As we sat and ate our soup, I about cried several times just thinking about all the work the two girls put into their project. It's such a big deal for two 15 year old's to put themselves aside and think of another person. They had to go out of their comfort zones so many times for this to happen: they made phone calls to reserve the church, asked people to bring food, stood in front of their church congregations and announced the event during Sunday service, hung posters around the school, etc. Incredible. I really don't think we adults give teenagers enough credit. Now, did all my students do this amount of work for their social action projects? No. But, I do have about 25-35 who have really risen to the occasion. If we give kids a chance to do something big, many of them will. I pray that this project will stay with them for years to come!


What I've Learned This Week

1. I love John Steinbeck. I've read some of his short stories, The Grapes of Wrath, Travels With Charley (my all time favorite book), Of Mice and Men, and now I'm reading Cannery Row. It's been my running companion for the past week; the weather has been rather crappy--so I've been forced to run inside on a treadmill (boo!), but it's been much easier with Cannery Row to accompany me. I get so wrapped up in his descriptions--I find myself smiling as I read.

2. Patience, to rely on prayer, and be thankful. This week has been trying on my patience. On Sunday I just about had a nervous breakdown as I thought about my growing to-do list. Until Wednesday, we still hadn't heard from our case worker about starting the home study process. I have one class of students who doesn't seem to be learning anything this year. We're waiting to hear back on certain opportunities. I'm working on trying to plan a workshop I'll be leading at a conference in Arkansas in a few weeks and am realizing that I'm completely afraid of crashing and burning. And I'm tired of people who are removed from the classroom making decisions for "what is best" in the classroom without first listening to those of us who actually work in the classrooms. I've had a pretty crappy attitude this week, and at the back of my mind there was a nagging voice that kept telling me to sit down and pray. The whole week I just kept telling that annoying voice that I wasn't in the mood to pray--that I'd pray when I was ready. This week I've been reading through Colossians, and all week I avoided the references to being thankful that pop up in the four short chapters. But yesterday morning and this morning, I could no longer avoid them. One verse really jumped out at me this morning:
"Devote yourself to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart."
--Colossians 4:2

I realize today what made my week so crappy: me. A lack of prayer, patience, and thankfulness turned me into a grouch. I have so much to be thankful for: salvation, a devoted husband, a career where I can really make a difference in the world, family who is always willing to listen (my poor mom heard an earful this week), good music (that's really what pulled me through the week), financial stability, and so much more. In a few hours I'll set out on a four mile run--it's a great time to pray.

3. It's okay to put my job on the back burner sometimes. Each night this week I took time to write, read, and run rather than grading papers and responding to emails---and it was awesome.

4. This half-marathon training is kicking me in the rear. I love the challenge of running...most days :) But as we inch further along in our half-marathon training, the time devoted to training grows longer and longer and the bulk of our training just happens to be during our busiest time of the year: musical season. It's going to be a crazy March and April. I hope we can stay on top of everything. I want our musical to be a success--but I also want to run the entire half-marathon this year...no walking. It's going to take a lot of prayer and better time management (less time spent on Facebook).


New Music: Mumford & Sons

My brother in-law, Pat (who happens to be an incredible musician), sent me an email today with the name of this band: Mumford & Sons. He thought I might like it...and it turns out...I do like them. Very much! As I've graded papers tonight, I've spent time listening to different songs of theirs---and "Awake My Soul" is my favorite. The video is nothing to write home about, but the song is beautiful. Enjoy!


Social Action Project Update 3

It's time to turn the heat up on the social action projects.

Three out of four of my English 9 classes composed professional business letters inviting community members to attend our project night next week (one class is missing out on this lesson because of all the late starts we've had...sad). So in addition to the letters I sent out to parents/guardians last week informing them of the event, nearly 55 letters went out today composed by students requesting that others come to the event as well.

Today I told my students that KNOP News from North Platte, the Keith County News (our local newspaper), and KOGA (our local radio station) are all covering our project night in some form. On a whim, I sent an email to KNOP News last night explaining what the kids are doing and asking if anyone could come interview a few kids. Through a series of emails this morning, we worked it out so a reporter will come to one of my classes next Thursday to interview students. One of the local news reporters is also coming next Tuesday to interview more students for our community's newspaper.

It was cool to see the kids' reactions. This is a big deal for many of them! I really hope this added pressure just causes them to kick it up a few notches and really invest in their projects.


A Verse for Your Tuesday

I ran across this verse in Colossians this morning, and it really stuck with me:

"Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness."
--Colossians 2:7

What beautiful images---deep roots that are necessary for survival and overflowing with thankfulness. I hope this verse is as encouraging to you as it is to me.


Why Valentine's Day Isn't a Big Deal

I don't remember many Valentine's Days which is unusual for me because I have a memory like an elephant. After dinner, Nate and I talked about our plans this weekend; he mentioned doing something for Valentine's Day on Saturday (we have musical rehearsal on the 14th). And though I know he meant well, it got me thinking about how obligatory and insincere this commercialized holiday is.

I spent two and a half years working at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in both Kearney and Lincoln, and the week of Valentine's Day was always one of our busiest weeks. I loved how fast paced the job was during this time, but I hated how unhappy and stressed people looked as they put together boxes of chocolates to give away as gifts. Very rarely did people come in smiling asking what they could get to knock the socks of their significant other.

Days like Valentine's Day create unrealistic expectations that often end in disappointment. One Valentine's Day when Nate and I were engaged, he asked me what I wanted to do for Valentine's Day. I said, "nothing" knowing darn well that I didn't mean it--but I wanted him to figure it out and come up with something on his own. Staying true to what I requested, Nate didn't plan anything. He picked me up from my dorm room and we went to his sister's house. As his sister and her husband headed out for a romantic evening, we sat on the couch eating rice and beans while watching TV. I was pissed. No more than ten minutes after they left I demanded that Nate take me home. Confused, he drove me back to my dorm room enduring the silent treatment the entire drive. The minute we pulled up to Husker Courtyards, I jumped out of the car, slammed the door, and stomped up to my dorm room. I waited ten minutes expecting him to knock on my door any minute, but twenty minutes passed and I knew he went home. That pissed me off more.

Though I couldn't see it then, I realize now how immature this was to not communicate what I really wanted to Nate. I had unrealistic expectations that he could read my mind and plan a trip to a nice vegetarian restaurant and then to a quaint coffee shop in the Haymarket--my unrealistic expectations ruined the night for both of us.

Why do we need a day set aside to express love and gratitude? Why can't it be an everyday action? Why do we need kitschy Valentine's Day stuff to adorn the shelves at every department store? I like to be thought of and appreciated just as much as the next person, but we don't need Valentine's Day for this. So let's all stick it to the man this year, and express our love and gratitude all year long.


Social Action Project Update

Well---my students are well into their social action/awareness projects. We finished reading MLK Jr's Letter From a Birmingham Jail on Thursday, completed a Socratic Circle over the text, and students composed RAFT Writings (Role, Audience, Format, Topic) where they selected a role to write from the perspective of, a targeted audience, and an appropriate format over some topic within the Civil Rights Movement. They turned them in today, and of the ones I've read--I've been impressed. One student re-told the story of Emmitt Till to an audience of current students from the perspective of the cousin who was with him at the grocery store, another student wrote a journal entry about wanting to be white from the perspective of one of the little girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, AL--the student imagined the journal entry was written just hours before her death. Another student wrote a letter to the University of Mississippi from the perspective of James Meridith (first African-American student to enroll at Ole Miss). It was a cool way for students to exercise their creativity and show me what they learned about specific events within the Civil Rights Movement.

While students composed their RAFT Writings, I conferenced with each one of them about their social action/awareness projects. I've been so impressed with several students. Of course, there are a few bumps on logs who will do bare minimum. But if even five students gain from the project, then I think it's worth it. I have two students who are putting together a soup supper benefit for a community member who has a rare blood disorder, three students are investigating the security of our facilities and recommending ways we can become more secure in order to prevent school shootings, five students are putting on a run/walk to raise funds for the American Cancer Society, two are planning a tire-changing workshop (how to change a tire) at a local dealership, three more are having a bake sale to raise funds for the Perkins County Humane Society, and one is interviewing students and teachers about their thoughts on respect and then is putting together a multi-step process of how to be more respectful. I love talking with students who are passionate about their projects; it's invigorating.

We are currently in the process of planning our English 9 Project Night scheduled a week from Thursday where they will display these projects to community members, parents, and teachers. I'm not going to lie---it's stressful! But, I'm so excited for this opportunity. I hope there is a good turn-out for the kids--especially those who have worked their rears off already.

I'll post more later!


Sunday Morning Finds

I try to devote some of each Sunday to indulge myself in my geeky hobbies: browsing NPR, listening to TED Talks videos, developing curriculum, and blogging. This morning I came across two great finds: an article called Three Trends That Will Shape the Future of Education and this incredible TED Talks video that urges a shift in the way we educate students from test-driven, standardized education to a focus on learning, critical thinking, and life application. Though the speaker has some quirks that drove me batty (ending many of his statements with the ever-so-popular Really? turning declarative sentences into interrogative ones), he does make some great points. One of the quotes on his slide show presentation jumped out at me:

"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."
--Alvin Toffler

If you have some spare time today, check out at least one of the two links. They're worth your time.

iPads in Education

I've been preparing to do a test run of iPads in my small English 12 class. I've never used an iPad before last week. So to get ready, I attended a half-day iPad seminar that introduced us to ways (specifically through apps) the iPad and iPod Touch could be used in schools. Check out this list of apps:

Keynote - $9.99
Pages - $9.99
Numbers - $9.99
Non App LinksPoll Anywhere
iTunes U (Kahn Academy)
U Lit2Go
ArtPhotoshop Express - free
Sketch- $.99
Adobe Ideas - free
Art Authority - $9.99
ElementaryPark Math HD - $1.99
SUPER WHY! - $3.99
Fish School HD - $1.99
iWriteWords- $2.99
BrainPOP- free
Ancient Egypt - $4.99
EnglishShakespeare - free
Shakespeare in Bits: Romeo and Juliet - $14.99
MathMath Board - $3.99
Graphing Calculator HD - $1.99
Number Line - free
ScienceCoaster Physics - $.99
Solar Walk - $2.99
Molecules- free
PTE (Periodic Table) - free
Wolfram Alpha -$1.99
3D Sun - free
NASA- free
Frog Dissection - $3.99
The Elements - $13.99
Star Walk - $4.99
History Maps - free

I'm not going to lie, as these Apple reps. ran through each app, I was impressed. Everything about what they showed us screamed differentiation. I was sure that kids would be more hooked on learning with an iPad--I thought iPads might solve our attendance issues. I was stoked as I left the seminar.

But in the past week as I've researched apps and using the iPad as an educational tool, I'm not so sure it's the greatest move quite yet. The iPad is still a new tool---it's only been out since April 2010. I have a good amount of trust in Apple after using their products for the past two years, but if our district is going to make such a huge switch from laptops in the hands of every 9-12 student to iPads in the hands of every 9-12 student, then I think we need to give it a few years of development first.

I believe the iPad is an awesome piece of technology that was designed for personal use, not institutional use. I came across this blog yesterday that touches on thinking about how the iPad is intended to be used and that is for personal use---it's a device that is supposed to be used by one user (or a small household of users) and customized to fit that user's needs. It was not designed to be passed around and used by multiple users. I don't even think it was designed for educational use. Don't get me wrong, there are some valuable educational uses for the iPad and I do think it would be a great piece of adaptive technology, but as the aforementioned blog post points out---it's an uncomfortable switch from a computer.

In my composition heavy classroom, we need access to computers. Without the keyboard docking station, we'd spend more time typing longer pieces of writing than we would on a laptop/desktop simply because the keyboard on the iPad is not built for composing longer works.

Perhaps the major reason why I believe this is not yet a good switch is how fast it's happening. In my short time of teaching, it seems that schools tend to jump on technologies before really thinking about how to make it worthwhile in a large institution. I love technology and I believe that we need to incorporate it more into our classes---but, if we are going to make this major change in the way we present curriculum, then teachers need time and support to adapt their curriculum to make full use of the iPads. I don't believe we were given that with the laptops, and I fear we won't have that with the iPads. Without built in time to research, think, play, collaborate, and develop--we'll run into the same issues we are with the laptops: teachers won't use them enough to justify dollars spent on the tool.

In this new digital era and in a time where budgets are tight, we have to be critical consumers. We cannot just purchase without really evaluating how effective a tool is.