Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Donors Choose

This fall, I had a problem. I purchased a class set of Suzanne Collins' book The Hunger Games for my seniors. I though that they would get excited about reading it and that it would segue nicely into Lord of the Flies. I thought that they would be pulled in by the action and relate a little to the main character, Katniss, who grows up in a poor section of her country. I thought we'd have some interesting discussions and that they'd enjoy the experience as a whole.

And I was wrong. They were obsessed with the book. Every time I tried to do anything else, they'd glare at me and beg to read. It was getting to a point where I was afraid to try and do anything besides read the book with them. Plus, I'd already let them know that this book was a series book and that there was already another title out called Catching Fire. When they started to clamor for this title to be our next book, how could I say no?

On the other hand, with a frozen budget and the second book in the series still in hardcover at $17.99 a pop, how could I have said yes? I started to brainstorm ways to get a few copies of the book so that I could send it home as a free reading book for those interested, but it just wasn't going to happen. Then, I remembered a coworker showing me a camera that she'd received from an anonymous benefactor on the Donors Choose website. So, I sat down one Sunday afternoon and spent a couple of hours forming an online plea for help. Within twenty-four hours, we'd been funded. Catching Fire was in our classroom five days after I created an account on Donors Choose.

I couldn't believe it. I mean, as a teacher I am used to scrambling and begging and pleading for stuff for my students; it's what we do. I'm used to doing this at the school and community level, though. Not on the national scene! It blew my mind and when I told my students, I thought that they were going to cry. They were so touched, so genuinely affected by this outpouring of goodness that they couldn't wait to thank the kind folks who'd given them these books.

Since this first experience with Donors Choose, I've had three other projects funded. I'm supposed to remain anonymous as a teacher, so I'm not going to provide much in the way of details here. But, I will say that these four funded projects have totaled over one thousand dollars. For real.

If you are a teacher with students in need, you should definitely check this site out. Or if you're someone looking to give a large or small gift to a classroom in need, this may be your way to help out. Either way, it may be one of the most powerful experiences in giving and receiving that you'll ever have.

Monday, December 21, 2009

2010 Bibliophilic Book Challenge

I've been enjoying my first day of Christmas vacation. So far, I've managed to catch up on neglected projects and emails. This afternoon, I even had some extra time to check up on blogs I follow, and I'm certainly glad I did because I came a across a post that excited and inspired me to join the 2010 Bibliophilic Books Challenge!

What in the world is that, you ask? Well, it's this awesome challenge that's actually quite perfect for those interested in learning more about literacy. This challenge asks that you read books about reading. There are a number of books sitting on my not-yet-read shelf that are about reading. Really, I've read a number of books in the past year about this very subject. Lucky for me, there are so many more! I'll post reviews of the books I read for the Bibliophilic Challenge on this blog. To join in the fun, just visit this site and follow along or link your blog to the main site.

According to the site, these are the levels you can reach in the contest:

  • Bookworm: Read three books
  • Litlover: Read six books
  • Bibliomaniac: Read twelve books

  • Sounds like good, clean fun! Get a badge for your blog or wiki here.

    Friday, December 18, 2009

    How to Give Back: She's the First

    In scanning my favorite blogs, I found a post about a site called She's the First. It's an organization that helps match donors with girls in need of funds for education on an international level. This site offers several options for giving to a variety of countries. You can even team up with others to donate monthly. In some situations, the you can even keep in touch with the girl you're supporting.

    Maybe this is the perfect holiday gift for that hard-to-buy-for someone who already has everything?

    Sunday, December 13, 2009

    Critical Thinking Tool

    This past week, I spent some time searching for a web tool to use for a final project for a graduate course I'm taking. I had this big vision of creating a mosaic of pictures to fit this fairly complicated intersecting circle design that is the crux of the text I read as part of this class. I used google to search for picture mosaic programs, but was not able to find anything. Then, almost by accident, I can across a site called UMapper on a blog that I follow. As it turns out, this is an awesome site and everyone should be thinking about whether or not it is something that can be used in the classroom setting.

    I have not yet finished my project for the grad class, but you can view this work in progress if you'd like. I plan to add-in some text to explain the pictures and the intersecting circles. I'm also going to try to add some music to this. I can't wait to experiment with it. I've also been thinking of ways to incorporate it into my teaching. So far, I've thought of several character and vocabulary mapping ideas. I think that there are multiple ways that this technology could be used in a wide array of content areas.

    More importantly, this tool is an easy way to escalate the critical thinking levels in your classroom. The conceptual framework developed by students and the huge amounts of choice in design and delivery will ensure that students are using higher level thinking skills. I look forward to playing with this more and thinking about ways that I could use this in my classroom. Please let me know if you think of anything interesting or if you try this out in your classroom.

    What To Do With Inappropriate Posts

    For the first time, I had a student who wrote something that was very inappropriate in a blog post. I've used blogging with students for about a year now, and was very surprised that this student decided to use this platform to discuss such private information. The post was not mean or anything, it simply disclosed all kinds of personal information about her life and her family. As I read it, I had to decide just how I would deal with this issue.

    I did not want to come down so hard on this student that she felt discouraged from sharing her story with others. I needed her to understand that her student blog that is connected to other students and to the world through my classroom blog is not the appropriate place to post her inner most feelings about her childhood. As I read her post, it occurred to me that her writing felt like something I would read on myspace. Almost all of my students have some sort of social networking account; I did not realize that they would confuse the public and private sphere so drastically.

    This was a learning experience for me. I now plan to talk openly with my students about the identity they create when they write online. I don't think that many students understand that what they write online will follow them for the rest of their lives. Some students seem to have an awareness of this fact but many do not. I know now that I need to talk with them about their online persona and the different types of writing that they'll post online and what's appropriate where.

    Luckily, this student was completely understanding of the fact that her post was not appropriate for our classroom blog. I hope that she still feels like she can use her words to let out her frustrations and fears. Part of me wants to give her an old fashioned pen-and-paper journal as a place to record and collect her thoughts. Another part of me, though, is excited that she wrote pages and pages of what amounted to a good start to a personal memoir, à la Jeanette Walls or Tobias Wolff.

    Whatever comes of this for the student, I know that I need to think about backing up the train, so to speak, and starting the new year with a lesson on blogging without sharing personal information to the entire universe. After all, once your persona is out there, it's almost impossible to go back and recreate your online self.

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    Vote for Your Favorite Edublogs!

    The Edublog Awards are awesome. Many of my most treasured, reliable sources for edu-information have won these awards or have been nominated. Express your opinion by December 16th and help the people at Edublog decide which blogs are the best! There are all kinds of interesting categories and there are lots of great sites to find and follow from their lists, no matter what you teach. Have fun exploring and expressing yourself!

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    Bloggers Unite!

    Recently, I came across a website called Bloggers Unite. The purpose of this site is to gather together bloggers who are interested in supporting any number of international events, like International AIDS Day, Human Rights Day, and International Animal Rights Day. I stumbled across this site as I was looking for information on International AIDS Day in conjunction with a lesson I was planning. Though I was not able to use this site with students for this event, there is serious potential to have students choose events or cause that they have some sort of belief or passion for and to support that interest by blogging.

    All of my students have blogs that we use on a regular basis. The challenge in using this platform with students, I believe, is to make it as relevant and real as possible. If students are burdened with artificial tasks on their blogs, their blog space will not become the reflective, representative place that it has the potential to be. I think that there is enormous promise in sites like bloggers unite to allow students a safe entry into the realm of editorial writing. Students can choose a cause that they read about on this site, blog about it, maybe research it a little to gain extra facts, and then upload one of the badges provided to show their support of that particular event. This is an easy way to get students connected to international issues and to allow them to develop their sense of global citizenship.

    Another way to use this site is to connect one of the events to whatever unit you're teaching at the time that the event occurs. For instance, I plan to use this site to get students blogging about International Human Rights Day in conjunction with A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. There are definitely instances of human rights abuses discussed in this memoir and my students are feeling the impact of those abuses through Beah's powerful use of language and imagery. Though my students are far removed from the setting of Beah's memoir, they can definitely use their online presence to support an increased awareness of this cause.

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    500th Post

    I can't believe that I just wrote the 500th post for my classroom blog. This is the third school year that I've used a blogging platform to communicate to students, parents, colleagues, and unnamed others around the world. Also, this blog has turned into a tool to help lead instruction during class rather than a mere one-sided report-out spot.

    I feel like this blog is one of the best representations of what it is like to be a student in my classroom. I try to make learning an exciting, interactive, intelligent enterprise. I hope that the blog shows this passion for teaching and learning.

    So, hurray for me and for my students and all of those people who've enjoyed this blog in the past. I hope to keep this going and can't wait to to write my next post!

    Monday, December 7, 2009

    K12 Online Conference 2009

    The theme of this year's K12 Online Conference is "Bridging the Divide". I can't think of a better title to capture the fact that there exists a huge divide in access to and information about how to effectively use technology in the 21st century classroom. As part of this free and user-friendly conference, you can listen to and participate in a huge variety of topics. Some topics are more content specific, but others are more about education in general.

    This conference runs for two weeks in December (the 7th-11th and the 14th-17th), but don't fret if you miss any of the sessions. You can listen to any of the sessions after they're completed. In fact, you can also listen to sessions from previous years from the K12 Online website.

    Please find the teaser video for session about Digital Writer's Workshop with Jackie Gerstein at the top of this post.

    Friday, December 4, 2009

    The Largest Professional Development Community Ever!

    For about nine months, I've belonged to an online community of English teachers called the English Companion Ning. On this ning, you can choose from a wide variety of groups that are labeled according to the theme or subject that is talked about on the group's page. I belong to a wide variety of groups, from Shakespeare to creative writing to blogging teachers. I've even started my own group, which is a book club focused on Young Adult Literature.

    This has been one of the best collaborative experiences I've ever had as an educator. I've engaged in a variety of conversations, shared ideas, shared documents, and met new educator colleagues from across the country as a result of joining this community. There's an awesome book club where the authors of each month's selection actually participate in the online conversations. It's amazing and I can't say enough about it!

    This ning turns one today. It was created on December 5th, 2008. If you're interested in joining, all you need to do is create an account right from the main page. You can participate as little or as often as you like and it's absolutely free! A great deal no matter how you look at it. As author/ teacher/ creator of this extraordinary site, Jim Burke, would say, "See you on the ning"!
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