Monday, March 31, 2014

Costa Rica: Day 3

Buenas noches! We're still dealing with the same tricky WiFi, AND we had a lot of water activities today. So, I don't have too many photos to share. 
We started the morning visiting a school where the older kids performed a traditional Costa Rican dance for us. 

We also found plenty of time to play around. 

Afterward, we hiked to La Fortuna waterfall. We got to play around in the water, but my camera did not. 

We followed the waterfall with a visit to hot springs heated by this volcano. 

Our hotel provided another delicious meal after which we had some free time to visit a church, hear a talk about Costa Rican coffee, visit the local sporting goods store, or just relax. 

Tomorrow we'll spend most of the day traveling to our next base of operations. More when we get there! 


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Costa Rica: Day 2

Hello, everyone! We're settled in for the night here at hotel. Due to some finicky wifi issues, this evening's blog post is coming to you from my phone.

Today we went to inBIOparque, a park that has replicas of the three different types of biomes here in Costa Rica. Afterward, we visited a volcano that hasn't erupted...lately. On the way to our hotel, we stopped to look at a roadside waterfall. I really hope all these photos go through!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Costa Rica: Day 1

Hola, amigos! Another teacher and I are spending our school's spring break taking the Model United Nations club to Costa Rica. Today was mostly a day of travel.

We left the US bright and early and had a quiet flight down to San Jose.

Once we arrived, our tour company made sure we got to our hotel. We spent the afternoon enjoying the sunshine, the pool, and some ice cream:

Tomorrow morning, starting at 6:30, we're off to inBIOparque and Paos Volcano National Park. I promise a more exciting blog post (with better quality pictures!) then.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Real-World Research Projects

When we did diagnostic testing at the beginning of the year, I found that most of my students came to me relatively prepared for the year's coursework in all but one area: research.

During our zombie unit, our media specialist and I introduced some of the basics of research in the Internet 2.0 era: web evaluation, understanding copyrights, and exactly how Wikipedia can show you sources without actually serving a source.

When we came back from winter break, we began our research work in earnest. First, we all chose dystopia books from a wide selection including I, Robot, Animal Farm, and Fahrenheit 451. After three weeks of literature circle activities including reading articles relating to themes in our books and in-class essays about how power is displayed in our books, we moved into the research part of our unit.

Students explored social issues inherent in their books such as class stratification in Brave New World or spying in 1984. They then looked through recent editions of the New York Times to find examples of these social issues at play in today's world.

With our media specialist, we conducted lessons on pre-outlines, databases, and, of course, Easy Bib. Students could choose from two possible products: a letter to a person with control over their issues or an editorial for the New York Times Student Editorial Contest. For students who had their editorial writing interrupted by our most recent snow storm, the student newspaper also offered the option to submit a guest editorial. At one point during the project, one of my students who struggles the most asked if we could just write a "regular" research paper because this one required so much work in deciding whom to address.

I wrote along side my students from start to finish, and I'm pretty proud of that fact. I've been trying to model our work for them from my very first days as a teacher, and I finally did it! I ended up writing a letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio about his pre-k initiative after considering how parental circumstances defined outcomes for kids in my book Gifts by Ursula le Guin.

I'll spend the rest of this week evaluating the students' work, but I can already tell you that Michael Rogers is getting quite a few letters from some citizens in Central Virginia who have a lot of ideas about why casting such a large spying net inside the US can lead to some pretty disastrous outcomes. I can't help but beam with pride that so many of my kids know who Michael Rogers is.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Help! My Students Have Read All My Magazines!

A few days ago, my students asked me if we could get some magazine subscriptions. We're trying to raise money to get some engaging, immediate texts into our classroom. Could you help us out?

If you donate within the next seven days and use the code INSPIRE, the Donors Choose team will match your donation.

Thanks for helping us out!

Get a Student Teacher

Sorry for the radio silence, loyal readers! C and I recently moved and are Internet-less as we carefully weigh our provider options in rural Central Virginia. In the flurry of the move and the last few weeks before spring break, I've managed to find some time to update you all on how things are going in our  classroom. 

In the spirit of showing my work, here's how I generally spend my weekdays:

Hit the gym for some running or yoga, attend a morning meeting with teachers who teach the same grade levels or a guidance meeting with a student, (a) parent(s), and other teachers to discuss issues make a collaborative game plan about how to helps the student be more successful at school, teach for forty-eight minutes, collect work for students working in the in-school suspension program, teach two more forty-eight minute classes, meditate for five minutes, eat lunch while responding to e-mails, start grading, work on our SOL tutoring program or attend another student success meeting, teach two more forty-eight minute classes, tutor or attend a faculty meeting, go to my Spanish for Educators class or second job depending on the day, spend a little time eating some food with a friend or my sweetie, finish grading, take on more swipe at my inboxes, and get ready for bed. 

I need two of me.

My students really two of me.

This semester, I haven't mastered the art of adult human cloning. However, I did volunteer to have a student teacher. This decision has turned out to be one of the best I've made in my teaching career so far.

Ms. R. has been another consistent, caring adult with whom my students can connect. She takes on my duty two days a week and organizes student work after I've graded it. She's also gotten involved in our tutoring planning. 

Is there a way to give every teacher in the US this sort of support? Or perhaps the teachers in schools that have high-needs populations? The research on teacher residency programs such as the ones in Boston, Seattle, and Chicago so far has used testing outcomes to measure the programs. Researchers at Harvard found that the Boston program only "modestly" improved student achievement once residents moved into their own classrooms. 

Veteran readers of this blog might suspect that there are a few things I value more than standardized test scores. The Harvard research also found that teachers who came through the residency program were more likely to stay with the district, providing stability in a division that has nearly 50 percent turnover.

Residency programs or student teacher support may be difficult to scale in that we don't need a 1:1 replacement rate in our schools. What we do need, however, is a way for teachers to grow in the profession without permanently leaving the classroom. Residency programs could provide this missing professional growth piece.

Residents could work in classroom support for three years, gradually taking over more of the day-to-day management of teaching, lesson planning, and the like. After they transition to being the the full-time teacher, the mentor teacher could then spend time working as a master teacher who provides vertical alignment, common assessment planning, classroom teacher evaluation, and the many other administrative tasks that could be completed by someone without an administrative license. The master teacher could then transition back into the classroom with new ideas and a refreshed attitude to mentor a new teacher resident and work with a new group of students.

Fellow teachers, until this virtuous cycle becomes a reality, let me offer you some advice: get a student teacher.