Tag Archives: Professional Development

ComputerU: The Paper-Less Teacher

Once a semester, I teach a 1/2 day professional development seminar for a series at my school called “Computer U.”  This year, I focused my course on my growing efforts to go paper-less.  I keep incorrectly placing that hyphen there on purpose.  I am not trying to go paper-free; rather, I want to simply reduce the paper load one element at a time, and it is the things I have learned in these efforts that I want to share with my colleagues.  The focus of my presentation was necessarily on new activities and websites for student projects and engagement.  Those things can be great, of course, but I wanted to focus more on how we, as teachers, can organize ourselves in a more paper-less manner.  For more insight, check out my post on teachers integrating technology in the classroom or a post from a few years ago when I first started my paperless efforts.

My presentation is below.  Currently, WordPress is not compatible with a Prezi embed code, but clicking on the image below will take you straight to the presentation.

Click the image above to be taken to the Prezi.

Click the image above to be taken to the Prezi.


Five Questions Teachers Should Ask Themselves When Integrating Technology into the Classroom

The following five questions are those I try to take into consideration each time I integrate technology into my lesson plans.  A little hint:  The answer to each question should be yes!5 Tech Questions for Teachers

1.  Do I have a purpose larger than using technology for the sake of using technology?

This question is a biggie.  Technology should not be used simply in order to check off a box or fulfill a requirement.  When integrating technology into a lesson plan, your end goal should not change.  Unless, perhaps, you are a technology teacher, the technology is not the goal.  Technology is a means.  Learning is still your end.  Another way you can ask this question would be:  Does this technology either lead students to critical thinking, help students demonstrate knowledge, or make the learning and working process more efficient?

2.  Have I tried this technology myself?

Please, please let the answer be yes!  You always want to do a test run before introducing students to a new technology.  If possible, try the tool out both from the perspective of the instructor and the students.  Sometimes I like to gather one or two of my teaching peers to act as my “students” before introducing the tool to actual students.

3. Am I willing to have things not go as planned?

It is important that your answer be “yes” here.  Even if you have answered all of the other questions in the affirmative, nothing will guarantee that things will go as planned in the classroom.  Do you have a back up plan?  Do you know how to achieve your goals in a similar but different fashion, if need be?  Is it okay if this takes longer than expected?

4.  Is the input worth the outcome?

Technology is usually pretty great at streamlining a process and making us more efficient.  Some technologies, however, can do really incredible things at the cost of incredible amounts of time or resources.  Make sure you are considering your true learning outcome when deciding if the work and resources required behind the technology is the best way to go about achieving your end.

5. Will this technology respect the security of my students?

The web is a great way to expose students to the wider world around them.  When you test out a new tool, try to ensure that the students, themselves, are not over-exposed.  Use pseudonyms when possible, make sure any location features are deactivated,  and, when using images, do not use pictures of the students, or blur faces if needed.

Side Note:  A few weeks ago I wrote about making my own infographics like the one above.  If this presentation style intrigues you, be sure to check it out!

One More Side Note:  You are welcome to save the infographic for your own use, but please keep the creative commons license below in mind and credit TeacherNextDoor (with a link when possible).  Thank you!

All About Transitions – Middle Schoolers and Me

When I was getting my education degree, I was pretty sure I would end up teaching High School English.  I loved student teaching in a 10th grade classroom and assumed that something similar would follow.  Surprisingly, the job I ended up taking was in a middle school classroom teaching one section each of 6th through 8th grade English, among other subjects, as well.  Like a meet-cute in a movie, I remember meeting my first homeroom of 7th grade students as a first year teacher and realizing that I love middle school.  Before, when I was still in college, I would tell people that I planned on teaching high school English, and they would say, “High School? But, you look like you’re in high school yourself!”  Now, when I explain that I am a middle school teacher, I get funny facial expressions, comments on what a “unique” age group that is, “well some one’s gotta do it” sentiments, and (because I’m in the south) that slightly condescending endearment, “Well, bless your heart!”

Image from Flikr User AwesomeJoolie

Middle school students are a unique group, for sure, but my heart also does feel blessed to be working with them.  What I’ve learned most about working with this age is that, to put it as simply as possible, it seems to be all about transitions on the part of the students and all about flexibility on the part of the teachers.  For middle school students so much, even the familiar things, are new.  Having a locker and a class schedule without spending the whole day with the same twenty-five kids is enough to send some sixth grade students straight to the floor in the middle of the hallway surrounded by a confusing shower of papers.  Then there’s the fact that your friends, especially those of the opposite sex, are suddenly different and so your friendship now has to be different, even if you were perfectly happy riding your bikes all over the neighborhood and running through sprinklers two summers ago. To add to the chaos, there’s also this strange phenomenon where all of a sudden friends have broken themselves up into little groups and each group seems to have its own social expectations and code.  Whew! I get kind of dizzy just thinking about it, and then I remember that all of those things are being towed behind my students when they enter my classroom each day.  I smile, though, because they are bringing these things into my English classroom, and, among other very important things, English is all about communicating about my world and your world and the worlds that have come before us and those that will follow.  It is using this great gift of language to deconstruct our ideas, philosophies, understandings, and questions.

This past school year, I came to the decision that it was time to make a transition of my own and decided to seek employment at a different school.  When I began the process of applying and interviewing, I knew without a doubt that, no matter what other changes I made, I wanted to keep teaching middle school.  I may have stumbled into middle level education, but I have no desire to leave. This sentiment is viewed as crazy-talk by some (even some within the field of education) but that also means that the majority of teachers you have on a middle school faculty really want to be there.  Others may have stumbled into it, like I did, but I’ve also found that those who find it is not for them don’t seem to hang around for long, which means you are left with a faculty who is largely happy that they are working in a middle school – at least in my experience.

This coming July, I will begin the move to my new school where I will teach 7th and 8th grade English.  It is an independent k-12 school just outside of Atlanta, and also just happens to be where I attended high school.  A lot has changed since I was in attendance, and I am excited for this next stage in my career.  Looking ahead, though, I am also finding a few more ways to relate to my transition-laden students.  I will be learning to work within the new codes and expectations of a new faculty and a new curriculum.  Additionally, the school has a couple of innovative programs and ideas in place.  For one, in the 6th-8th grades, Math and English classes are gender divided.  I am eager to see how this new dynamic will affect my classroom, but also want to make sure I am preparing myself for this new class element as much as possible, so that creating the right environment for my students is not too trial and error based.  In the upcoming school year, the school is also launching a one-to-one tablet program.  I am glad that this is a transition that all faculty members will encounter and not just the new additions.  I’ve brought my tablet home and am excited to begin playing around with it.

For my students, middle school is all about transitions.  As for me, I am in full transition mode, too.  It can seem a little overwhelming at times, but overwhelming in a way that fills me with energetic enthusiasm for the year to come.  So now, dear PLN, I am calling on you to help me in this transition, and hopefully we can all learn a little be from each other in the process.  Do you have any great resources on teaching to different genders? One-to-one tablet programs? Entering a new faculty and curriculum?  I appreciate all the ways you help guide me and will be sure to share what I learn along the way, as well!

Reflections on the Jeff Wilhelm Webinar

I had never tried one of the Scholastic webinars, or Teacher Talks, before this past Thursday, but must say that I am a believer now. The session was surprisingly short, only thirty minutes, but I am still amazed at the amount of solid, usable information was packed into those thirty minutes.

The focus of Thursday’s talk was Inquiry and Motivation in English Language Arts, led by Jeff Wilhelm.

One of the first questions introduced was on the pros and cons of a student-centered approach versus a teacher-centered approach. Wilhelm, however, advocated for a learning-centered approach, focusing first on the “how” of learning, then on the “why” and the “what.”  From this point, the conversation continued from a learning-centered perspective for the remainder of session.

I was especially drawn to Wilhelm’s description of using essential questions in the classroom. My pervious misconceptions on how and why these were used in the classroom had kept me from employing them in my own. However, It is much more clear to me, now, that using this tool to construct an inquiry based classroom will help learning to become more personal and purposeful. Students will be led to take a more active part in their own learning. In particular, Wilhelm suggested that with an inquiry based approach, we as educators are more prepared to answer the question : “How are we promoting what real experts do?” Students want to know that their learning is relevant. I was a little overwhelmed, yet convicted and motivated when Wilhelm stated that “you can re-frame anything you teach as inquiry.”

And so you have my new call to action.  My own essential questions as I enter into the nest week and remainder of the semester are these:




I will definitely keep you updated on the results of my own inquiry.  I plan to post some ideas on how I can reconstruct some of my current curriculum from a more inquiry frame of mind by the end of the week.  I would love to hear your thoughts as well.

In the mean time, I’ve embedded the video of the webinar below, or you can click here to go to the actual page.

Skype discussion on Inquiry and Motivation in the ELA classroom

This Thing Called Twitter…

So … for a long time I thought twitter sounded like the most ridiculous thing in the world. Who cares that I had soup for dinner? In everything I had heard about the website, not once did using it for professional development enter the mind. However, as I explore and reflect on my own practice and my ideas about professional development, I keep running into references to twitter. My classroom is largely (not entirely, but significantly) structured around social constructivist and socio-cultural theories of learning. If I believed that individuals learn best from peers and mentors who can equip them with the social cognitive tools they need in a personal context, shouldn’t I apply a similar perspective to my own learning? Isn’t that why I pound out my ideas here on occasion (and hopefully with growing frequency) and frequent the English Companion Ning? To grow my practice along with a sense of community?

The most recent two pushes encouraging me to join the micro-blogging site was an EdWeek article by Michelle Davis, Social Networking Goes to School, and blog post on one of my regular reads, Free Technology for Teachers.  You can find the twitter specific post here.

Do you use Twitter for part of your personal learning network?  How do you put it to good use?  Any advice for a newbie like me?

I feel kind of like I’m feeling a “Check Yes or No” letter across cyberspace … but we can follow each other if you want.

I promise to never tell you what I ate for breakfast. I am: TeacherNextDoor.

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