Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Heart of Our HOUSSE

(from Courier and Press)
     I throw like a girl, couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with a ball, and am not known as being what one would call athletic. I was the kid who came in next to last during that awful mile run that seemed like three. Today in the news I heard a story blare from the flatscreen: "Indiana Department of Education Orders Sports Access for the Disabled." My first thought was, Yeah? So what? How does that change anything? I then realized that maybe all schools don't think alike.

     So many hours of our days are spent making sure that teachers are highly qualified and students are not left behind in the classroom. Indiana law also mandates that students with disabilities are given the same opportunities of their nondisabled peers - in other words, making sure they have a level playing field. What many don't realize is that many of these disabled students consistently level their opponents on the playing field! You may not even realize they are there at first because they are part of the team. It's not a big deal, they're just "one of us". Another player. Our homie. Except that it is a big deal. It's huge. Why else would the state feel the need to mandate these rules? Maybe North excels in more than just academics. Maybe we excel in ways that can't be judged by how many college credits teachers have under their belt.  Maybe, just maybe, our staff has a heart for kids.

   Being part of North alumni and staff is a tradition I hope to pass to my children. Some traditions, such as the days where students and staff gathered on Wedeking Avenue to grab an in-between class smoke,  are thankfully defunct. Others live on and I'm proud to call myself a Husky. The dedication of our coaches and support staff amazes me. These folks quietly make everyday efforts to  include all children, such as taking a disabled student home because he was slow and awkward in motor gross skills and missed the bus. These folks patiently practice drill and skill to students who are slower to process the game rules. They make sure disabled students are able to participate, even if it means not coming in first in the meet. To me, that is a winning team.

   So I respectfully thank each one who has made our house a place where all students are included. Who's in the house? The Huskies. The mighty, mighty Huskies.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Learning by Doing--A Moment of Reflection

Photo Credit

"I feel like a first year teacher again," is a statement that often comes out of my mouth this year when colleagues and family members ask how things are going. At first I thought it might be because I stepped out of the classroom for a year, and then I thought maybe it had to do with the two new courses I am teaching this year. And while I'm sure these are part of the reason, the more I reflect, the more I come to realize that I feel like a first teacher because I AM a first year teacher again and it is because of the work we are doing in PLCs. 

The work of a Professional Learning Community asks us to imagine the outcome of a unit of study before we actually even consider the daily lesson planning. This concept is not that foreign to me as I often imagine a project or essay that I want my students to create at the end of some exciting unit I plan, but the outcome of a unit planned PLC-style is a bit different. The outcome of a PLC unit is no longer the project or essay, but the proficiency, if not mastery, of a set of standards. In order to prepare for this, I went to the Learning by Doing Conference; I read the DuFour book; I even helped teach the process to teachers at North's feeder schools. But nothing prepared me for this work like actually doing the work--interesting "aha" moment when I consider the title of the DuFours' book is Learning by Doing

This year I've been doing what DuFour suggests--I've been learning by doing--and it's not been an easy process. On an individual level, I've struggled. My first semester lesson planning was mediocre. I was lucky to be one day ahead of my students in reading, I was making last minute copies and uploading documents to My Big Campus the planning period before I needed them, and my creativity flew out the window. There were days that even I didn't enjoy being in my class. On a team level, I've struggled. I was working with three teachers I had never planned with before. We knew each other and got along as friends and colleagues, but not as planners--and we are each very different planners. Issues came up--we didn't know how to talk to each other when we didn't see eye to eye or when we each thought that our way of doing something was the right way. And it's harder to be calm, cool, and collected when you aren't exactly sure if you are doing the work the right way to begin with! Near the end of first semester, I kept thinking, "the old way of doing this work is so much easier", but I knew this wasn't positive thinking and I know that success has never come easily, so over break, I spent some time reflecting.

In my reflections, I discovered the successes among the struggles. On an individual level, I am beginning to truly understand my standards--what they mean, the target skills my students need to be proficient, and what it takes to teach them. My lesson plans throughout a unit are becoming more focused on a central idea that supports the development of that unit's standards. On a team level, we are writing better, more efficient assessments than anything I have ever written on my own. We are talking about learning in our classrooms in ways that I never have before. We're discussing real data that is useful to what occurs in our classrooms every day. And when I reflect on all of this learning that I have done and that my team has done, I AM PROUD! We are working hard, and we are stumbling along the way, but we are still moving forward, and, to me, that is a sign of success!

Do I still feel like a first year teacher? Sometimes. I think it's more like a second or third year teacher who has learned a thing or two from her struggles. I am further ahead in my planning and I have discovered how to marry the creativity in my old way of planning with the PLC process. I have a better grasp on how my teammates function and how we can best work together to build upon our strengths. And I feel like I am becoming a better teacher for my students, and, in the end, that is what matters most.

Friday, January 18, 2013

North High School- leading the way in the EVSC!

Did you know that North High School is offering 16 Advanced Placement Class to our students for next year?  Did you know that NHS will be giving 175+ AP exams in May?  Did you know that NHS offered more AP classes than any other EVSC high school, Evansville parochial school, Warrick County, Gibson County, and Posey County school? Advanced Placement at NHS is growing with incredible force each year- so what is AP?

Advanced Placement Classes (aka AP) are classes which were created by the Collegeboard.  There are currently 34 approved classes.  Teachers who take on AP classes do not have to obtain any special degree or extreme qualifications, other than to be a master of content in the subject and follow the AP guidelines.  AP classes are national recognized and national standardized, and due to this sophistication almost all four year college institutions recognize the AP designation and accept passing exam scores.  As college acceptance gets more and more competitive, Advanced Placement becomes even more important to our students and their parents.  They will be at a tremendous advantage in the college recruitment, scholarship, and admittance processes. 

Here is additional information from the Collegeboard’s website about AP:
·         AP provides students with an opportunity for learning that goes beyond just facts and figures. The rich course material, classroom discussions and demanding assignments typical of AP courses will help students develop the content mastery and critical thinking skills expected of college students.  AP students also have the opportunity to earn college credit and to stand out in the college admission process.

·         Passing the exam requires that students be able to demonstrate critical thinking skills:
o   Problem Solving
o   Making Inferences
o   Making Connections
o   Presenting Thoughts Cogently
o   Interpreting Various Types of Information

·         Research confirms that a rigorous K-12 curriculum is the most reliable predictor of college success.

·         Research also confirms that passing a College Board Advanced Placement exam is a reliable predictor of college graduation - a significantly greater predictor than both socioeconomic status and G.P.A.

·         The most reliable researched-backed vehicle for preparing students for college success is an effective secondary school AP experience.

·         More than 90 percent of four-year colleges in the United States and colleges in more than 60 other countries give students credit, advanced placement or both on the basis of AP Exam scores. By entering college with AP credits, you'll have the time to move into upper level courses, pursue a double-major or study abroad.

·         The CollegeBoard finds that AP helps negate the cost of college in 3 major ways:
1.       Students who take AP courses and exams are much more likely to graduate in four years.
2.       Students who take longer to graduate from a public college or university typically pay between $8,000 and $19,000 for each additional year.
3.       Taking AP increases eligibility for scholarships and makes candidates more attractive to colleges.

Be sure to check out the NHS AP website!  Click Here for AP Website

If you would like additional information on offering an AP class, North’s AP program, or just general questions, talk to your department chair or Courtney Browder.

Monday, January 14, 2013

We've got spirit - yes we do. We've got spirit - how 'bout you?

My husband and I always encourage newly married couples to play the following game: Count how many times people ask, “So how’s married life?”  EVERYBODY asks newlyweds that question, but it seems so strange.  Do the questioners really expect the couple to say anything but positive, gushy, lovey things.  I feel like the same game could be played by North teachers and students.  Count how many times random community members ask, “So how’s the new building?”   I’m not sure what people expect us to say to such a broad question.  I do, however, have the sneaking suspicion that some people hope they’ll get an inside scoop of negative gossip because they are often surprised by my stock answer.  I state the unexpected benefits of our new digs.  In the year that we’ve resided in our new home, there has been a visible change in school spirit.  Students are proud to go to school here, and they openly support the Huskies.  This is a far cry from what I found when I first arrived at North in 2004. 
I genuinely enjoyed my high school experience, and most of my small-town classmates did too.  Everybody went to football games.  Everybody took part in spirit days.  Everybody knew (and sang) the school song at pep assemblies.  That being said, I was in for a rude awakening when I began student teaching at North and found that school spirit was virtually non-existent.  My first year teaching, I even had a student get upset because he unintentionally wore green on a spirit day.  He was embarrassed that his classmates might think he had school spirit!  I was dumbfounded and disheartened by this lack of pride. 

I am thrilled to see that this is no longer the case in our school.  As I stood outside my classroom door last Friday, I only saw a handful of people who were not wearing North shirts.  Now, I know a big part of this is because they want to wear t-shirts instead of their polo’s, but the fact that so many of them HAVE spirit wear is amazing to me.  Kids who once seemed angry at the world… well, some of them are still angry, but they sure do look less hardened when they’re wearing an “I heart Huskies” shirt. 

Like this shirt?
Order one from Mrs. Kinnaird
 and the National Honor Society. : ) 

The increased school spirit goes beyond t-shirts though.  The air seems lighter than it did a year ago.  Kids are *gasp* smiling when they walk through the halls.  It’s cool to go to ball games again.  Good grief… it’s even cool to want to don the hot, sweaty mascot uniform.  Kids from all walks of life are coming to me because they want to represent their school as Blazer.  We couldn’t pay kids to want to do that just a few short years ago.  It’s crazy!

As I said before, I enjoyed my high school experience, and I’m glad to see so many kids building similar memories at North High School.  Life is easier when you’re happy, and it’s easier to be happy when you’re proud of something.  I am glad to see our Husky Nation making such a positive name for themselves.  

Go Huskies!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Presentations for Short Attention Spans

How many times have you sat through PD and thought, "Wow, that just dragged on forever" or "I have no interest in that"?  Have you ever attended a conference, picked a session to attend, and realized pretty quickly the session you chose was not the best choice..and now you have to sit there for an hour..?  Have you ever watched your students become bored during lectures or student presentations?

I'd like to share a method of presenting that may be helpful for those with short attention spans.   One of my favorite hobbies is using Twitter to creep on educators I haven't met - one of them tweeted about this presentation style in December.  It is called Pecha Kucha - originated in Japan, meaning 'chit-chat'.

Here are the three rules:

1.  20 slides
2.  Only one picture on each slide
3.  Slide advances every 20 seconds

Download this powerpoint template. (It takes you to a google doc, then go to 'file' and click 'download'.)   This template automatically advances the slide every 20 seconds.

It is neat because you know the presentation will definitely last 6 mins and 40 seconds.  If the first presentation is boring, a new one will definitely start in 6 mins and 40 seconds.  If it is PD, then you can just sit there happily knowing it will end soon.  

If you are using this tactic for student presentations, the students are forced to practice ahead of time because the slide will switch on them every 20 seconds and they have to know their stuff -  no words to read off from the slide.  They can also use their netbooks (photostory?) to record their voices over the slides and make pecha kucha youtube videos.

Below is a Pecha Kucha presentation about Pecha Kucha.

like TEDTalks but presented by regular people! 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Just for fun!!

I'd like to introduce a just-for-fun North teacher blog!  We used to have a teacher newsletter - I really enjoyed it.  It was fun to read. This will be like that.  I hope it becomes a place to learn from (and about) one another. Parents and students may possibly stumble here from time to time - it is open to all.

Here's how it works....

Every Friday, a different guest blogger (maybe you?) will blog around one of the following questions:
  • What teacher/student/administrator would I like to brag on and why?
  • What innovative (or new-to-me) teaching strategy am I trying and how’s it going?
  • Share a “big success”.
  • What tech tool have I tried recently that I would recommend to others?
  • What have students been working on in my class?
  • What whole school initiative is North doing that am I really excited about (or would love to see happen one day)?
  • What is one cool thing happening at North that parents probably don't know?
  • What's on your mind?
  • What's new in your life?

      If you read this and thought,  "I want to be a guest blogger!!" 
      If you read this and thought,  "I will read it, but don't want to write!!"
      ...then visit the blog every Friday and/or subscribe to it! Use the comment section to provide feedback, ask questions, and to...,well, comment!  Occasionally, I will send an email to the staff reminding everyone that a teacher blog exists.
      If you thought, "This blog makes me stressed out and/or angry!!"
      ...then close this window right away and don't think about it anymore. No worries! :)
        Thanks! I look forward to learning with you! First post will be this Friday!!