Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Letter to Adrienne Gagnon

Dear Ms. Gagnon,

I wanted to thank you again for your workshop on Saturday at the Promising Practices Conference.
I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation. It was both informative and interesting.  As I stated to you on Saturday, I am a middle school science teacher in an urban school. Next year the new Science Standards will be rolled out for the state. STEM will be a part of our new curriculum. Your presentation gave me a few good ideas as to how I could implement small STEM projects into my curriculum right away. I am also interested in the "Tool Kit" that you are creating. I would love for my school to have access to one when they are available. 

 Student lead projects that can benefit the community is an awesome idea. However I also liked the idea of building a community within a school. Communication skills and collaborating with others are being honed in this program but I was excited that you are teaching persistence as well. Students are learning to "fail forward" to learn from their mistakes and make it better. This is what science is all about. Students that can work through this in an environment where they feel safe and supported is key.

I was wondering about your students. Do they ever come into other schools to speak with  students about the work they are doing? If they do I would be interested in arranging for them to come a speak in my classroom.

I was inspired by what I heard on Saturday and since then I have gone on your website. I appreciate the work that you are doing with urban youth. I am especially happy to see how many girls that are participating in your program. I am very interested in volunteering my time. You had said that you were looking for ad visors. I would be  happy to work in any capacity with your organization.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Mary Colannino
Hugh B. Bain Middle School
Cranston RI 02911

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Danger of Being "Color-Blind"

 The Danger of Becoming "Color-Blind"

Nakkula writes about the effects that color-blindness has is our schools. He writes that "Research has indicated that endorsement of "color-blind" racial attitudes is significantly associated with greater levels of racial prejudice and a mistaken belief that society is just and fair." (p.125) He goes on to stress the importance of cultivating alliances with our students. Last week I witnessed this first hand because of a situation involving three of my students. On Thursday, some of my students stayed after school to help me with a project that I am running for the school. After they were finished, three of the boys ( who are all friends), wound up getting in a fist fight in the front of the building. Friday, I was was asked to come to the principals' office. Before I was even in the office, I could hear my principal screaming at the boys. I could tell that they were very glad to see me. I asked the principal what had happened and she told me it had been reported that the boys had been fighting on the front lawn after school. I explained to her that the boys had stayed after school because they had volunteered to help out with the school wide project. I told her that they were good boys and that they had made a mistake. The boys were not being forth coming with details of the fight so my principal threatened to call the police and press charges. One of my students is from Syria. He immediately became very upset. He was actually in a panic. Luckily my principal left her office. I told him that I would try to handle the situation. I have had many conversations with this boy and he has told me of the violence that he has experienced in Syria. He has a mistrust and real fear of police and military.
My principal was an ESL student herself and taught ESL students for ten years. However her mantra is that all students are treated the same. She has said that she "does not see color." I disagree with this way of thinking.  My principal believes that what is fair for one is fair for all. This is not seeing each student as individuals. I agree with Nakkula, we need to acknowledge the differences of our students so that we can teach them more effectively. I went to my principal and explained to her the situation and where my student was coming from. She backed off. She realized that she could not treat this boy in the same manner. I told the boy that he was going to have to take the consequences for fighting,but there would be no police involvement. He was upset but no longer in a panic. He knew that his father was going to be mad. I don't know what the outcome was ...I am sure I will find out on Monday.

Nakkula (p. 122) also states that "If we work with adolescents and wish to meet them where they are , we must go there, to where they live racially, even when - and perhaps particularly when - going there takes us beyond our educator comfort zones." I think this is a very important lesson for me as a white middle class teacher to learn. I will never fully understand the hardships that go along with race and to some extent ethnicity that many of my students have had to endure because I have never experienced them. Therefore it is essential that I learn all that I can about my students. I know that it is a big undertaking and I will not ever succeed in knowing all my students, but I hope to know most of them. When I read about the conflict between Antwone and Ms. Petersen, I would like to think that could never happen to me, that I would be better than Ms Petersen. The fact is Ms Petersen is a good teacher and these things are going to happen. I think that if we are reflective in our relationships with our students, we can minimize the conflict. As a white teacher teaching a team full of non-white children, I might not know exactly where my students are coming from but I can provide a classroom where both realness and relationships can abound.

"Could a greater miracle take place
               than for us to look through each other's eyes
                                                                for an instant"?

                                                                                              Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Creating an Inner Sanctum


 Creating an Inner Sanctum

When many people think of "home" we think of a place where  we feel safe and accepted. We have the freedom to be ourselves. There are others who can only wish that home was such a place. Nakkula p. 108 writes about the correlation between identity development and  strong family support.

If kids cannot receive this support at home, it is essential that students have a place at school where they know that their thoughts and opinions are heard and valued. As teachers we can create an "inner sanctum" (p. 108), where our students can grow both emotionally and intellectually. I want my classroom to be a place where we can try to break down the so called"norms" of masculine and feminine behavior that society has deemed acceptable. Pastor, McCormick, and Fine (p.107) define and describe "homeplaces." These are places within the school where kids can feel safe to express their ideas and voice their frustrations. As teachers, we have all witnessed how effective this can be.

Through out the chapter, Nakkula writes about the expectations that society puts upon males and females and how schools themselves are gendered spaces. Skiba (p. 105), found that by high school, there are many more boys that are taking advanced math and science classes. I found this to be true in my own life as a student. When I was in college, there were many more males than females in the more advanced science classes. Only a few years ago I also experienced this when I was assisting a friend in a nearby public high school. I was helping out in an AP chemistry class. One of the guidance councilors came in to speak with the seniors that were in the class. He told them that an admissions officer from a certain college would be coming in to speak with any students who were interested in pre-med. I was pleased to see that most students raised their hands. The councilor then addressed only the girls and said that an advisor from a nursing school would also be coming soon. I couldn't believe what I was witnessing! After the councilor left, I made sure that all students knew that they were all welcome and capable of looking into pre-med or nursing whether they were male or female!


An interesting thing happened in my class this week while I was reading this chapter. I have been meeting after school with some of my students who are contributing to my comic book. My little group has become quite close to one another. It has been a wonderful thing to watch unfold. One of the boys is a very good artist. He once told me that he wanted to be a fashion designer. Last week I complimented him on his drawings for the lab that were were doing. I told him that he would turn out to be a great fashion designer one day. He told me that he had "turned his back on his dream." Apparently his father did not approve and he had destroyed all of his designs. His father did not think that this was a career for a man. I told him not to give up on his dream. The next week my little group was hard at work. He came up and showed me his comic. It was about a girl not giving up on her dream. I asked him if the girl represented him. He said that it was him. Nakkula (p. 115)  expresses how important it is as educators it is our job "to promote learning through safe and enriching experiences." (p. 115) We can accomplish this by creating safespaces for our students. Nakkula also goes on to say that "It is the fight to help our students be fully present as learners, as classmates, as the people they see themselves to be." 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Importance of Building Relationships

 I will admit that I had to read chapters 4 and 5 a few times each. There is so much information in both of them. However, I see one reoccurring theme through out them both. There is a direct correlation between the success of a student and the positive relationships he or she develops within the community.

Although I know that this is true for all students, I do feel that it is particularly important for students from poor urban communities.Nakkula p.66 explains how students, "simply feel depleted by the relentless challenges of urban poverty."

A few years back I had a student. CP was a very shy girl. She really didn't have any friends. Her grades were fair to poor. She was the student who came into your class and did her very best not to get noticed. Her younger brother on the other hand was in trouble constantly. He was suspended on a regular basis. They were also both in truancy court because of frequent absences. Their mom was a drug addict and their father was in jail. One day I noticed bruises on CP's leg. I asked her how she got the bruises and she told me that she got them from dance. I started to keep an eye on CP. I started a little homework club and asked her to join. She started to stay the days that she didn't have dance. One day CP came to school and told me that her mom's boyfriend was abusing her and her brother. The people in my school immediately took action. The team work that is described through out chapter four was in my opinion what saved CP.

That same year, CP's mom died. Our principal, social workers, and teachers worked very hard to place CP and her brother in their grandmothers' care. We met with the truancy judge and informed her of the home situation. Sullivan emphasizs the connection between school environment and students who have tough home lives. He states that "Schooling provides the best opportunities for healing the warps of childhood." This could not be more true in this case. CP went on to high school. She came to Bain, (because of my principal) every week to my class after school for extra help and to talk. Her dance teacher also gave her a job after school at the dance studio. Things were
still very bad at home. During CP's senior year, the Truancy Judge place CP in a foster home. She actually collaborated with the dance teacher to find her a home within the dance community!!

Today CP has graduated from high school, the first one in her family to do so. She still lives with that family and she is going to a technical to become a medical technician. Dance continues to be a big part of her life an CP is now a paid teacher at the dance studio. Nakkula p.83 affirms Sullivan when he writes " We all carry the possibility of transcending or substantially modifying our family histories through extrafamilial relationships, starting with those forged at school with teachers and peers." The strong relationships which CP has forged throughout has helped to change the direction that her life was going in.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Making a Difference

                      Making a Difference

I think that most of us can remember (hopefully)  at least one teacher that has touched our lives in a positive way. I know that it might sound corny but the teacher that has had the biggest influence in my life is my father. My father has made a lasting impression on me as both a student and a teacher.
I had the privilege of having my dad as a teacher. He was such a positive teacher. He touched the lives of so many children. Through the years I have had conversations with some of his previous students who tell me how much they loved my dad. He was a Phys. ed. teacher and he was ahead of his time. His goal was to get all kids to reach their personal best. One of his previous students  told me once that he was never the athletic type and that he had a hard time time in gym. However gym class became one of his favorite classes because of my dad. I know that when I had my father as a teacher, I wanted to reach my personal best and I was proud when I did.  His energy and enthusiasm were contagious.
He taught half of the school population every year, but he knew each kid. When I went to Henry Barnard,there were some pretty tough kids that I went to school with. They had the  utmost respect for my father because he had respect for them. Nakkula p26. states that as teachers we "are often reminded of our own adolescence, and the decisions we made," and how we resolved those challenges. My dad had a pretty hard childhood. I don't think that he forgot that and he used his own experiences to relate to his students on a more personal level.
I also had the opportunity to observe and work with my father many times when I was studying to be a teacher. I learned so much from this experience. I have never met a person that had such a love of children and a joy for teaching.


I have had a pretty good life. I have been lucky to be supported buy family, friends, I have had the privilege of a good education, and I have a good job. In spite of all of that, I have had to deal with some incredibly hard things in my life. It is those experiences that I bring when I am trying to relate to my students. Nakkula p49. explains that "Thinking is modeled for us, we connect with it, and we learn from it." We create our own thinking through the connections that we make with others. Too many students do not have good role models in their lives. They are connecting to the wrong people.  I want to be a good role model for my students. I want to show them that even when things are hard there is always a way to overcome adversity. We might not come from the same backgrounds, but I think that it is possible for us to relate on some level.

I agree with Lightfoot when she argues that adolescents must must challenge adult authority  to develop autonomy, and I also agree that they do not need to engage in risky behavior to do so. I am proud of all the after school activities that Bain provides. Teachers and administration have worked together to find money to keep as many kids involved in activities after school as we can. It was easier a few years ago when we had after school sports the arts, and other clubs, however the city cut the budget and all those programs went away. They only clubs they have not cut are Student Council and Science Olympiad. The examples of Janine and Julian can be found in every school. It enrages me both as a parent and an educator that too many of the programs that would provide a perfect opportunity for students to challenge themselves are being cut.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

To Reach out Beyond the Classroom


       To Reach Out Beyond the Classroom

 In chapter one of Understanding Youth, authors Nakkula and Toshalis introduce us to the relationship between Ms. Peterson and Antwon. Unfortunately that is a story that I have heard all too often. Also I am ashamed to admit, I have been a part of. I have always taught kids that come from difficult circumstances. When I first started teaching, my ideas of good classroom management were very different from how I run my classroom now. I thought that because I was teaching some pretty tough students, I had to be tough too. I could control a classroom, but was it a place where kids wanted to be? Were they learning anything? Sure, my honors classes were learning but that is the easy class, what about the others? As I look back I think that I was a little afraid of them. My first year at Bain some of my students broke in to a house in the neighborhood, robbed the family, tied them up in the basement and set fire to the house. Their world was one that I knew nothing about. 

I had a professor in college that offered some good advise. He told us when we got a job, we should drive around the neighborhood and get to know where our students come from. I decided to do just that. I also got to know my students by asking better questions and really listening to their answers. Relationships began to form with my students. Many of them would stay after school for extra help or many times just to talk. In addition to the empathy that I had for my students and their situations, I also formed a new sense of respect for both them and their families (or sometimes not their families).

Nakkula and Toshalis note that both teachers and students learn from one another and I agree. I know that my students are responsible for helping to shape me into the teacher that I am today. We all have been influenced by at least one teacher in our lives, good or bad. Through out my career there have been many many students who have influenced my life.

 I realized that because of the type of job I have and especially the population that I teach, goes way beyond the classroom. I have made meals for families, visited them at home, I have gone to students' houses when they have not shown up to class. I gone to court, to funerals, hospitals, graduations and weddings. I am not patting myself on the back nor do I think that I am doing anything out of the ordinary. There are many teachers in my school and in other schools all over the world who do the same thing and more. Nakkula and Toshalis question if educators should go beyond the curriculum and form relationships. They also ask if this is possible with all students. I know that it is a difficult task but I absolutely believe that it is important to do the best we can.

Rita Pierson is the type of educator that I strive to be. She believes that it is essential for teachers to connect with their students on a personal level. Pierson states that "Kids don't learn from people they don't like." I agree, if we fail to engage our students they will not learn.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Community of Learners


 A Community of Learners

Through out the book Ayers gives examples of the achievements of children through inquiry. When I read about the project on the bridge building project for Bingo the turtle it reminded me of a similar project that my students worked on a few years ago. Our school is located on a very busy street. Cars would drive by the school without slowing down on a regular basis even at the busy times when our students were arriving in the morning and leaving in the afternoon. One of my students came to me and asked me if we could conduct an experiment. He wanted to see if  cars would slow down if  orange cones were place on each side of the crosswalk. As a class we discussed the reason why this would or would not be effective. The students formed their own hypothesis. We got permission from our Principal and from the Mayor's office to conduct the experiment. The Phys. Ed. dept. loaned us the cones. We place two orange cones on either side of the of the crosswalk on both sides of the street. We also had a speed gun loaned to us by one of the high school baseball coaches. Students took turns recording the data. We conducted the experiment for one month. The outcome of this project was amazing. The result of the experiment was that cars did slow down significantly when the cones were  placed at the crosswalks. My students did not want to stop there. Now they wanted to make the cones a permanent fixture. I spoke with my Principal and he called the local newspaper. A reporter came to the school and interviewed the class. They were so psyched!! Their picture was in the paper along with the results of their experiment. Most importantly the reporter stressed that the class wanted the cones to be permanently placed in front of the school. They got more than they asked for. The cones were placed in front of the school along with.....a crossing guard!! The kids couldn't believe it. They were so proud of what they had accomplished. The crossing guard as well as the cones have been permanent fixtures in front of the school ever since.
 My Final point that I would like to make on this story is that the boy who initiated this whole inquiry project was barely passing my class. He was the leader on this project and he did an outstanding job. Andora Svitak, the inspirational TED speaker states that kids are up for challenges. She also states that "If expectations are low, trust me we will sink to them." This was an important reminder for me never to lower my expectations of all my students.

                                                                    Albert Einstein

One of the other points that Ayers discusses is about standardized testing. On page 85 Ayers states that he grew up in a home where the same language was spoken as on the test, but that is  not true for everyone in the room taking the test along with Ayers. The other day my kids were learning about abiotic (non-living) and biotic (living) factors. I had put up a list of items on the board and they were taking turns checking off if the item was biotic or abiotic. One of the items was thermometer.  I have a student from Belarus who speaks Russian. It was his turn, finally he said to me "What is thermometer?" I showed him a thermometer and he immediately got the answer right and was able to give me the reasons why. Another science teacher happened to be walking through my room and he asked me how are these kids ever going to take the science NECAP test in May? This boy is very advanced in science. He is really at a high school level. Are the tests really going to measure what he knows? I think not. So many of my students are very bright and have a great deal of content knowledge. I can see it so clearly. They get concepts very quickly. It is the language barrier that we need to overcome and we will I have no doubt about that. However, what is going to happen when NECAP time arrives? 

                                        “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities”                                                                                        Stephen R. Covey

 One of the goals of our team this year is to try to involve the families of our students as much as possible. Last spring we met with the families to welcome them to their new school. We also had our own open house which was in a more intimate setting. Here we were, five different languages being interpreted but we were all there for one common goal. I think that there is potential there to incorporate the parents more . I think they want to be included. Strong parent involvement will improve the education of the children.  Our team was even talking about helping the parents to learn English. I loved the part in the book , pages 100-112 concerning community action. Ayers states the importance of  the relationship between school and community. My school actually does the neighborhood walk every summer to meet all new incoming families. It is a very positive and eye opening  experience. Most parents appreciate the visit and it always gives me a different perspective on my students.                                                                

Monday, September 8, 2014

To Teach the journey, in comics

When I first opened up this book I thought the it would be a pretty easy read. I even brought it to the beach with me! After a few pages I realized how wrong I was. Ayers jam packs this book with his thoughts on teaching, creating a classroom community and most importantly how students learn. I am sure that this will be a book that I read many times and refer to during my teaching career. There is a potential discussion topic on almost any page in the first four chapters. I agree with Ayers on almost all of his ideas, but for this blog I will focus on some of the concepts that apply to my new job this year.

"What hopes do the kids bring?What is the language of their dreams?What experiences have they had and where do they want to go? What interests or concerns them? How have they been hurt and what are they frightened of? What larger universe awaits them?" p.25

I have been teaching for many years and I do wonder about the lives of all my students. However, this quote from Ayers really resonated with me. In my classroom I have children from Syria,  who have been in the midst of a terrible war. I have children from Guatemala and El Salvador who are here to escape from the tremendous violence that is occurring in their countries. I have children who come from Liberia, Haiti, Dominican Republic, China, Philippines,  Belarus and Mexico. These children come from such diverse backgrounds and each of them has their own story to tell. The difference is many of them speak little or no English. The challenge for me is to get to know them and find out their stories. To find out what their dreams are.My ELL teacher and I have already found out quite a bit of information by playing games with them and through some of their drawings but we have a long way to go. I even like the picture that goes along with this quote. Ayers jumping off a cliff. I feel the same way this year. I am taking the leap and I will be learning right along with my students.

"Teaching is an interactive practice that begins and ends with seeing the student. It is ongoing and never completely finished." p.13

It is seems like such an impossible task to get to now all of out students. It is easy to know the students who are good communicators and like to participate in class. Even the kids that act up in class receive out attention. But why are they acting up? Do we know the reasons why some our students' behave the way they do? It is our responsibility to find the answers. Then there is the student who tries so very hard to be invisible. I think that they are the hardest students of all. It is so easy to overlook them. I vow each year to to better getting to know these students but I fall short. 

"Focusing on what I can't do diminishes hope and limits possibilities.It pays no attention to what I can do." p.20

I think that this is essential. There were times this summer I felt very overwhelmed when I was preparing for my new students. We have very limited material and resources, we don't teach in the best conditions. but it really shouldn't matter. If I concentrate on the negative I will miss the possibilities of what my students are capable of. Most of my student are coming to school with many strikes already against them. I agree with Patrick Finn that it is important that my students receive the same education and the same messages that students who come from more privileged and educated backgrounds are receiving.

"I want to build spaces where each person is visible to me and to everyone else - And most importantly, to themselves. Students should sense their own unique power and potential. In this classroom, each is known and understood, recognized and valued." p. 44

Before I read this book, I was playing with the idea of changing my room around. I can't change it that much because it is a science lab and the lab benches can not be moved. I also have tables instead of desks so that students can work with a partner. Ayers created a community area and I really liked this idea. I was able to create a community area this year. It is a place where the ELL teacher and myself can sit with the kids. I don't think that it is as intimidating for our student when we are sitting down with them. I am sure that this area is going to get a great deal of use. It has only been a few weeks in to the school year but we have learned a great deal about our students when we are sitting in the community area. Last semester, part of my research in Dr. Johnson's class incorporated creating a classroom community. Our goal was to get our students to feel secure and valued by one another. For the most part I thing that we had a great deal of success. I wish to continue and build on what I have already started.

"Teaching at it's best is not a matter of technique - It's primarily an act of love. p.11

I think that this quote is my favorite one of all. I think that Ayers is speaking first about the love of teaching. It is not good enough to just have good technique, you have to love to teach as well. If we want students to be excited about learning, then we have to be excited about teaching. Teachers also have to love to learn new things. We can only hope to instill the love of learning by becoming the examples for our students to follow. Finally I do believe that it is vital for teachers to love children. Students know if you care. I tell my students all the time how lucky I fell to come to school every day and teach them. They will give you more if they know that you are there for them.  A few years ago one of my students told me that a substitute teacher that he had for math class that day was mean to him. I said to him, "I say those things to you all the time!" He said to me "yea but you love me." By the ideas that Ayers communicates through out these first four chapters. I think that this was the message that he is promoting.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

My power point link.


In my opinion, this project still keeps me in the techno-traditionalist category. My goal is to become a techno-constructivist and for the first time I think that this might be an attainable goal for me. I think that this project is going to change the way that I teach and the way that my students learn.. My project has not even  begun to scratch the surface as to how I will be using this into my classroom.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Final Project

A few years ago, my principal asked the math and science teachers if we would be willing to spend four weeks in the summer learning about technology in the classroom. The bonus was that we would receive computers for our classrooms. I will do pretty much anything to get free stuff for my students so I readily agreed along with all the other teachers. I was happy to commit to the four weeks but I was so out of my comfort zone. I knew nothing about computers and technology, but the promise of thirteen new computers in my classroom was too good to pass up. I have gotten much better since that summer but not nearly where I should be. Technology is something that I am uncomfortable using as a teacher. I do use it, and so do my students but I have not embraced it, until this year in graduate school. My first class in graduate school I had to create a blog. I had never even been on a blog let alone create one. I immediately felt inferior to the other teachers in the room. My fears were unfounded however. I found myself surrounded by people who were willing to help me. I gained some confidence. Through out the year I have had to blog in other classes, take an online class, and learned to use excel as an assessment tool. I have gained both knowledge and confidence along the way. However this class has actually changed the way that I think about technology. For the first time I feel convicted to change the way that I teach. The first time I watched Mike Wesch's YouTube video, "A Vision of Students Today" was during a family dinner. One of my daughters showed the video after dinner one night and we had a lively conversation about it's message.I had a different reaction however when I watched it recently.When Wesch is writing on the chalkboard at the end of the video, I saw myself. I really don't write on a chalkboard but sometimes I want things to go back to the "chalkboard" times. They were easier for me. I was confident teaching on a chalkboard. But that is not what is best for my students.


I teach in a school that over 80% of students receive free or reduced lunch. Many students do not speak English at home. Some of my kids do not even have a home at all. They certainly are not digital natives.  When I read Danah Boyd's article, I clearly saw myself as a digital immigrant but because of the circumstances that my students live in I know that they are digital immigrants as well. The responsibility is on me to lead the way for these children to become competitive with the students from higher income neighborhoods and schools. Patrick Finn would argue that, these kids are not able to get the knowledge and support that they need at home or at school. It is my job to try and level that playing field for their future success. Wesch's message is clear. Technology is coming fast and hard and I need to make my students ready to receive it.
We were all asked the question, what does media literacy look like? There have been so many different things that I have learned these past two weeks it is going to take me a long time to go through it all, but this is the first time that I am looking forward to doing just that.
One aspect of media literacy that my students are pretty good at is in the realm of social media. They are constantly engaged in different forms of social media. They are secretly texting in school or they are on Facebook, Snap Chat, and Twitter till all hours of the night. They are even communicating on X Box with each other. The term friend has a new meaning, one I don't really understand. One thing I do understand is that I am staring to believe that we as educators and administrators need to rethink the use of smart phones in the classroom. I am starting to agree with our guest speaker Dr. Josh Stenger, when he suggests why not let the students use their phones in the classroom for learning purposes?  As I stated in an earlier Blog, I allowed my students to use their phones to go on Pinterest and to search the web to decorate for the eighth grade dance. The results were amazing.
 I am  also aware of the dangers of too much social media. Sherry Turkle makes a valid point when she states that social media has made conversation a lost skill. This spring we took the whole school to Mystic Aquarium. The principal told the kids that they had to leave their phones and other electronic devices at school, nothing on the bus. Some of my students brought this up in class and asked if I would intervene. I said no. One student asked how long the ride was and I informed him that it was about an hour ride. Another kid asked me what was he supposed to do for an hour with no phone. I told him to talk to his friend. Other students chimed in that was boring.
A few years ago the city of Cranston decided to use the DANA center out of the University of Texas at Austin to develop a new science curriculum. There are many opinions whether or not this was a wise choice but the bottom line is that it is what I have to follow. One of the results was that we were left with no textbooks. At first we all thought that this was a good thing. Science textbooks become out of date so rapidly anyway, and we were always criticizing how poorly put together the textbooks were. We did not think that we would miss having a textbook at all. We were wrong. For the population of students that we have, textbooks are necessary. Students need them at home to help them study, to go over things that they learned in class. The science departments in all three middle schools asked for books but we were turned down.
Another part of the picture is that Cranston is piloting a new ELL model for the state.All sheltered ELL learners will be in a classroom with both a content teacher and an ELL teacher. I have been asked to be a part of this new initiative.
My dilemma  for textbooks got more complicated. Until two weeks ago when Flexbooks were introduced to me. For the past four or five days I have spent hours investigating the Flexbook site. There is so much information. The beauty of it is that I never have to really complete it, I can just keep adding to it and modifying it to meet the needs of my students.
I am in completely new territory. I have no idea what my classroom is going to look like. I am also teaching 7th and 8th grade next year so I will also be learning the 7th grade curriculum. Flexbooks will make this easier for me. There will be so many resources that I can choose from. So far I have modified two chapters on the metric system. I have looked at some interactive assessments and some labs which I plan on using. I will be able to put my classes into groups which will be helpful. They can work with each other online at home or maybe even with me. Many of my students are unable to stay after school for extra help because they have to take care of a younger sibling. I am thinking that I might have a set time for a group chat. I have peer tutoring after school. It might be possible for this to occur on line as well. Another feature of this program that I am excited about is that when I modified my Flexbook, I could press a button and it could be translated into many different languages. So far there are five different languages spoken in my new class next year. All of those languages are on the Flexbook site. I asked a friend to check the Spanish translation and she told me that all my modifications were translated. I am psyched about this. Science concepts are pretty universal. This might make it possible for some of the parents of my students to help their kids with their homework. Finally, the book can be used online or it can be printed for kids who have no technology resources at home.
I am not implying that this site will be the end to all of my problems  and I am positive that I am going to make many mistakes this year, but I am excited to get started. I think that my ELL teachers will be excited as well. I am going to complete the metric unit in the next few weeks and then meet with my team to see what they think. If they like what I have done I will move on to another topic. My goal is to have two units done for both 7th and 8th grades by Christmas break.....we'll see!
When I was creating my Pecha Kucha, I stared to reflect on what a journey this year has been for me especially with technology. Ken Robinson, states in one of his TED talks that "if you are afraid to be wrong you will never come up with anything original." I think that is one of the most important things that I have learned on this process. I tell my students that all the time that the best inventions have been made from mistakes. I am beginning to take my own advice. This is my favorite Ken Robinson TED talk, "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" My goal this year is to get my students to focus on the process, not just the product.