Finds of the Week: January 25-29, 2010

Every week, I will be posting at least one post with my top "Finds of the Week." These could be websites for use in your classroom that have been passed on through my Professional Learning Network (PLN), submitted by fellow teachers at school, or found at a conference. There might be articles with a best practice or suggestions for things that work to help raise the level of thinking in your classrooms.

1. Algebra Lab - This is a site for the math people. This link will take you to a collection of sample math problems for both you and your students to use. It allows for students to try out problems of various skill levels. If you click on "Absolute Value," you will notice it gives sample problems at both the Algebra I and Algebra II level. Provide a direct link for your students to go and practice. When completed, some of the problem sets will even get some feedback.

Beyond the sample problems, you will also notice that there are connections to lessons for the topics, as well as a breakdown of careers that use math and word problems that could be transformed into open ended questions.

Areas of use: Math, science

2. Trebuchet Challenge - This is an interactive web applet that allows for some trial and error in an exploration of how a trebuchet works. Students can apply what they know about projectile motion, potential energy, kinetic energy, and gravity to adjust the distance, power, and accuracy of a trebuchet. Points are tallied on the activity. Have students take and submit a screenshot of their best scores as a competition.

Areas of use: Science, math, world history

3. Penn Manor Blog Site - Have you thought about using blogging in your classroom? Take a look at how Penn Manor High School in Millersville, PA is using blogging with their students to get them to increase their critical thinking and writing skills. There are many blogging platforms out there for use. Penn Manor hosts their own using WordPress. This blog is hosted through Google's blogging service Blogger. If you are thinking of using blogging, set up a meeting with me and we can discuss options.

Areas of use: Writing across the curriculum

4. White House Speeches on iTunes - While it is true that the White House has its own YouTube channel, it is difficult for schools to easily get to the channel, depending on filtering protocols from district to district. In our school, YouTube is blocked. There are still other ways to obtain the videos from YouTube, but I don't see any way that's as easy as going to iTunes and either showing a given speech, subscribing to the feed, or just downloading particular speeches. The 2010 State of the Union address is up. So is President Obama's Inaugural Speech. What better way to get your students more connected to politics?

Areas of use: Social Studies, speech

5. Noteflight - Here's a great one for the music theory classes, or even for anyone who would like to try their hand at writing some music. It takes a little bit of working with to get down how the interface works, but once you get it down, you can be writing your own sheet music (and hearing it!) in minutes!

Areas of use: Music


Guilty by Assumption!

We've all been there. If you sit back and think, you'll probably realize you were there sometime today. Where, might you ask? Why, being guilty of thinking someone else knows something you do.

It all started with me sending a link to a teacher today. Our mail program ended up adding a space and a period into the link, so the link did not work. This teacher asked me to look at the issue and I was able to see it right away. No, I didn't expect this teacher to notice this mistake. It's not something most people would notice anyway.

As it was, I was able to fix the URL she needed to visit and was able to work on a few other things with her, including some quick, just-in-time training on a web program we use in our district. She was amazed at some of the things that could be done, and, not having gone through the training myself, I was able to learn on my own. Then again, that's the way I learn many things: sit down, try it out, learn what does and doesn't work. Again, not something I would expect of others, as we all learn in different ways.

But after working with her on this quick training, I reminded her that this is part of what I was available to do for our staff. At least, I thought I was providing a reminder.

This teacher is new to our building but has been with our district a long time, and as so many of us have been guilty of, I assumed that she knew I was a half-time instructional coach, just as many other teachers assumed that she was aware of many rules, etc. in the building.

This got me to thinking about what I should be able to assume and what I should make sure to reiterate to both staff and students. Being a half-time math teacher and half-time instructional coach has led me to need to prioritize many things. Of course, my top priority is to the students of this district, and that priority has sometimes left me thinking of myself secondary (I have done better at taking care of myself more of late, but am still working on that front). When I am in my non-teaching time at school, I will drop whatever it is that I am doing if a student seeks help, regardless if they are in my class or not.

With that being said, I will first think about assumptions I have for my students. I assume they have mastered the curriculum in the prerequisite courses for the course they are currently in. I should be able to make this assumption with great confidence, but I also know there are students who move on regardless of prerequisites and teacher recommendations. But this is one assumption I will continue to make, with the caveat that I will offer extra help for those students who need it.

I will not, however, assume that my students can "do it all" with technology, as I have seen others do. Students are great with technology when it comes to entertainment and socializing. But what about when it comes to productivity and education? Do they know how to properly use cell phones and not disrupt others? Do they know how to find and evaluate a resource online? Can they create something new with various technologies with information they find? That's where I cannot make assumptions and have to make sure to provide the new viewpoint to my students and get them to embrace it, as well.

I cannot assume anyone else knows things that are second nature to me. I provide a variety of professional development opportunities for our teaching staff, but am restricted by time for preparation and meeting with them due to my schedule. I could use this time crunch as an excuse, or just rush through materials that I think my staff should already know, but that would make me highly ineffective. So I need to remind myself to move slowly, and if I don't get through everything I want to, then so be it. It will allow for better professional development and almost guarantee a higher level of implementation. Plus, it leaves them wanting more!

Too often in the world of education do we just think that others already know something we are so good at. I'm sure you hear it in the teacher's lounge. But we, as educators, need to remember that we are educators for a reason, and that is to share what we are so good at and get others to see themselves as good at it as well. In order to do that, we need to stop assuming and continue teaching.