Summertime, and the PD is easy!

Though a surgery in the family prevented me from traveling to Philly for ISTE this year, there are still plenty of summer professional development opportunities that are not only easy to access, but sans the responsibilities of  teaching 150 students per day, much easier to complete!

Recently re-attached ligament.

This summer, I am participating PD opportunities offered through two state and regional organizations that have become indispensible to area teachers and students: INFOhio and the Southwestern Ohio Instructional Technology Association. Most opportunities are potentially free, though they can be customized for graduate credit or certificates.

I just registered for 21 Essential Things for 21st Century Success, offered through INFOhio’s 21st Century Learning Commons. Though I am familiar with many tools highlighted in the 21 self-paced activities, my primary goal is to be able to go back to my staff in the Fall armed with the experience to promote the modules and answer accompanying questions.

Along with INFOhio, my district is also fortunate to have access to the incredible resources offered by the SOITA. Summer offerings include numerous workshops, as well as three structured  online book clubs focused on children’s and YA literature:  what better opportunity for a school librarian?

Need some other ideas for summer PD? Check out Shelly Terrell’s extensive list on her blog post, “What will you do this summer?” and Tamara Cox at  Eliterate Librarian’s blog about her summer PD. Happy learning!


You Can’t Just Google It

One reason I love summer is that it affords me more time to search for and to explore tools that I can share with students and staff next year. Sometimes the tools are sophisticated, but often a powerful tool can be a simple message conveyed in an entertaining fashion. That is why I’m posting the following video from the gang at Sweetsearch created using the online movie tool Xtranormal. I fell in love with Xtranormal when I saw this video (warning: explicit content) mocking  Apple Fanboys/girls who live and breathe iEverything (like me.)

Too often parents, and even some teachers, believe that students are expert researchers because they happen to spend a quazillion hours online via cell phones, iPods or desktop computers. The truth, however, is that without instruction in good research techniques and practice using said techniques, our students will be ill-prepared to solve more sophisticated problems related to gathering and processing information in the proverbial “real world.”  Doubtful? Consider the wisdom of the cartoon queen in the video below:


When an outstanding teacher leaves: a professional eulogy

When I exited the building on the last day of school last week, I carried the pieces of my drawn and quartered heart. The joy of summer break was overshadowed when one of the best teachers I have ever known announced that she was leaving us for an opportunity to teach in a KIPP school. While I knew of this possibility, and even counseled her to follow her heart, when her decision became official, I was immediately haunted by the apparitions of the hundreds of students whose hearts will break when they return in the Fall, and of the hundreds more in our district who will never have an opportunity to learn with her.

Kat came to us three years ago fresh out of a Teach For America stint in Memphis. The district appointed me to mentor her until she obtained licensure. Ironically, I spent most observations in open-mouthed awe, furiously jotting notes about techniques she was employing that I wanted to “borrow” for myself. Each 43- minute period was an expertly choreographed ballet of learning, interaction and engagement. Within the year, Kat became an unofficial mentor to many veteran teachers in our building.

Kat made it a point to know Every student. She could name siblings, parents, personal dreams revelaed in journals, athletic stats, roles in school plays, anything that was important in their lives. Her 6 ft college-basketball-star frame made for an imposing presence in the classroom,  and her infectious laugh  echoed through the halls like the familiar clip-clop her her heels. While often employing humor and positive reinforcement, she could freeze the blood of an off-task student by simply raising her left eyebrow (the menacing arch it formed defied the laws of physics!)

Disenchanted with the building’s grading system, she completely re-invented her own system, moving to standards-based assessment. She spent hours creating individualized assessment records for all 142 students, re-structuring a writing-rubric program and printing individualized, standards-based, analysis of all student writing samples. Students immediately bought in to these personalized documents and began tracking their own mastery of standards. It was truly inspiring to experience.

If I continued to point out the ways in which Kat influenced our students and staff, I would need to replace my keyboard. Instead, I want to focus on something for which I will be eternally grateful: the last week of school.

Normally, I close the library early in order to finish my  end-of-year obligations: inventory, cleaning and storing equipment, book repair, weeding, and completing orders for next year. This year, however, I spent the last five days working with Kat and our freshmen social studies teacher on a combined World History/Freshman English research project in the library. In fact, we had both classes in at the same time for  five out of our nine periods.

Had it been any other teacher, I would have balked, for fear of chaos, but these groups of 60 students actually worked, right up until the end. They  focused, asked good questions, brought their thesis statements and paragraphs for us to check, and met with Kat in small groups for focused workshopping. In short, they wanted to make both her and themselves proud.

The last day in the library (which was also the last day of school before exams) will go on record as one of my favorite days in education Ever. For what ever reason, Kat and I arrived at school a bit punchy, and we fed off of each other all day. In what we came to call “Slap Happy Friday,” we laughed, danced (often without music) sang, high-fived, and greeted students as they arrived by shouting in WWF style – “Ladies and Gentlemen, BRANDON  has arrived! Let’s hear it for Brandon! WOOT!”

It was definitely the most fun I have ever had with MLA style. We all had a blast that day, and despite our distracting behavior, the students finished their papers, and they were good. We were all fortunate to share a memory that we will turn to for solace when the doors open in August and the hallways no longer echo with that infectious laugh or  the familiar clip-clop of  heels.

May you find happiness and success in your new job, Kat. Heath High School will miss you.

Students honored when authors respond to their work via Twittter

Never mind that the last day of school for students was three days ago– the first days of summer have brought much joy to two of my 9th grade students who connected with authors via Twitter. The girls shared links to their final independent book projects and received responses from their literary heroines, Laurie Halse Anderson and Ellen Hopkins! (Truth be told, I was pretty darned stoked about it as well!)  I am grateful to the authors and excited that technology affords us so many options to make relevant, meaningful connections.

Here are the links to Tori’s Burned  trailer and Kathryn’s Speak trailer.

And here are screen captures of the Twitter exchanges with the authors:

Hopkins Twitter